Gov. Butch Otter was succinct Thursday morning when asked about a bill blocking Idaho courts from making decisions based on foreign legal codes.
“I guess I can’t appreciate the concern,” Otter said during his annual breakfast with members of the Idaho Press Club. “The courts are going to enforce our laws. The courts are not going to enforce some other country’s laws.”
As he spoke, just blocks away, members of the House State Affairs Committee were preparing to advance that same bill. After two hours of testimony, the committee voted 12-2 to send it to the House floor with a recommendation that it pass.
It’s the furthest the measure by Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, has made it in three legislative sessions.
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Redman’s legislation has repeatedly been criticized as a pointless attempt to target Sharia law — there are no known cases in which an Idaho judge has based a ruling on Islamic law. Thursday, Redman and the bill’s supporters argued the measure is not anti-Sharia or anti-Muslim, despite the fact that they regularly referenced Sharia. Those references were needed, Redman said, because of the prevalence of Islamic law abroad.
“I cannot be silent to the fact that American courts are confronting increasingly number of cases of foreign legal doctrine known as Sharia,” said Redman, who will retire after this session. (The basis for that assertion wasn’t clear.) “This bill is not simply about Sharia and other foreign laws but also trans-nationalism, in other words, the documented creep of foreign and anti-public policy laws being recognized by state and federal courts.”
The two votes against the bill came from Reps. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello, and Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello. The seat of Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, sat empty as she had resigned that morning to focus on running for governor.
Testimony from nearly 25 people was evenly split for and against the bill.
Speakers in favor included Warren Grover, founder of Treasure Valley ACT for America — a group focused on “keeping radical Islam and Sharia law from gaining a foothold in Idaho,” according to its social media page.
“Here in America we are all equal under the law — male, female, black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist. The law does not change if we are of a different faith or cultural background,” he said. “When we start to bend to other laws to be culturally sensitive, we will have opened a Pandora’s Box that we will never be able to close.”
Throughout the hearing, Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, focused their questions and comments solely on Muslims and Sharia.
“In Egypt, which is highly Muslim, 97 percent of the girls in that country have their genitals mutilated. That is a cultural, religious belief under Sharia,” Scott said.
Ahmed Abdelnaby, an Egyptian Muslim who works as an engineer at Micron, listed several female relatives who are all from Egypt and have not had genital mutilation.
“This is not a religious practice. It is an African practice,” he said. “Saudi Arabia, which is a country that runs on Sharia law, does not do genital mutilation to girls.”
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, pointed out the bill does not contain the words “Muslim” or “Sharia.”
“It does not have to mention ‘Sharia’ or ‘Muslim’ for Muslims to feel like they are under attack,” Darcy James, of Boise, told the committee. “I am an active member of a local Christian church. I oppose this bill because it does support a climate of hostility in our state and particularly at this time against Muslims.”
Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, took offense to claims that the bill was prejudiced.
“Some of the testimony has been talking about its prejudice and things such as that,” he told Chairman Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona. “I just do not feel like that is necessary. I just don’t feel like that is what the bill is saying. I feel like that is bad form.”
Scott asked several people who testified , including James: “Do you believe that American law and Sharia law can co-exist in our state?”
“I am of the the conviction that the constitution of this state and the country will prevail, and it is not necessary to have this particular bill,” James replied.
The Statesman’s Nate Poppino contributed.