Raleigh, N.C. — The latest version of a bill intended to protect the constitutional rights of North Carolinians from "foreign laws" is on its way to the House floor after a contentious hearing in the House Judiciary C Committee.
House Bill 695, entitled "Foreign Laws/Protect Constitutional Rights," is the most recent iteration of legislation intended to keep courts from recognizing Islamic Sharia law in North Carolina.
Similar measures have been filed or considered in more than 30 other states, but only a few states have voted them into law.
The first version of the legislation was passed by ballot initiative in Oklahoma. It specifically named Sharia and was promptly blocked by a judge who declared it unconstitutional because it singled out a religion.
Since then, newer versions of the measure in states from Arkansas to Florida have been more carefully worded. House Bill 695 makes no mention of religion at all, and it wasn't mentioned in committee.
In 2011, Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, ran the same bill. It, too, passed committee but wasn't taken up before the crossover deadline.
At that time, critics and legal experts warned that the broad language of the bill regarding contracts and foreign venues or courts could violate international treaties and admiralty laws and wreak havoc in international business relationships.
The same issues were raised again Wednesday by Kim Crouch with the North Carolina Bar Association, who said the association's Business Law and International Law committees are opposed to the bill.
"This is not a necessary piece of legislation," Crouch told the committee, adding that it would raise constitutional concerns.
The North Carolina Values Coalition spoke in favor of the bill. "We do want to protect our citizens," said Laura McGee. "This bill re-clarifies that."
After House Rules Committee Chairman Tim Moore signaled that the bill was unlikely to pass, Cleveland and co-sponsor Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Transylvania, agreed to amend it so that it would apply only to family law and child custody issues under sections 50 and 50a of state law.
Moore, R-Cleveland, who crafted the change, said it should reduce the chances of unintended consequences in the business community.
"I think this covers what the bill sponsors are trying to do. There's no reason foreign law should be used in such matters," he said.
After the meeting, Moore said he didn't know of any cases in which North Carolina courts have allowed Sharia or any other foreign laws to infringe on anyone's constitutional rights, but he said the sponsors were trying to prevent that from happening.
The danger of the encroachment of Sharia law is a popular topic on right-wing radio and blogs, but to date, there's little evidence that it's actually happening. Muslim groups say it's a scare tactic used by anti-Muslim activists.