State lawmakers urged to oppose anti-Muslim bill

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Keith Regier

The nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization has sent a letter to 22 Montana legislators and the House Judiciary Committee, calling on the governing body to oppose an anti-Muslim bill poised for consideration.

In the first month of Montana’s 2017 Legislature, Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, introduced a bill banning Sharia law to uphold the “fundamental rights guaranteed by our constitution.”

The bill passed the Senate on a 28-21 vote, with four Republicans joining all 17 Democrats in opposition.

On Friday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged legislators in Montana, Arkansas and Idaho to oppose such measures, calling them unconstitutional and an attack on the Islamic faith.

If adopted, the legislation would prohibit state courts from considering so-called “foreign laws,” including Sharia law and Catholic Canon, so long as they’re deemed to be in conflict with state or federal laws.

“Legislation clearly designed to stigmatize a particular faith is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits government interference in religious affairs,” Robert McCaw, the council’s director of government affairs, said on Tuesday. “The promotion and adoption of these unconstitutional bills sends a message that Islam is an officially disfavored religion.”

While Regier sees his bill as a means of safeguarding Americans’ constitutional rights, opponents see it as a non-issue and an affront to those of Islamic faith.

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McCaw said the bill is similar to the Oklahoma anti-Sharia constitutional amendment, which was struck down in federal court as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

“This Montana bill would also be in clear violation of the First Amendment’s command that government remain neutral in matters of religion,” said McCaw. “Should this legislation become law, I expect that it would meet the same fate as any other adopted bill that is not in line with our Constitution in protecting the religious freedoms of all citizens equally.”

Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Organization, said the legislation addresses a non-issue and is rooted in Islamophobia.

The bill has not been scheduled for a hearing date in the House, but if it reaches that point, Caroll Rivas said, it’s likely to face stiff opposition.

“This doesn’t necessarily rise to a level of concern for most legislators in the House,” she said. “It’s not a priority issue, but if it does end up in committee, there will be a robust conversation to be had, and there’s going to be some new voices in opposition.”

Similar legislation has been introduced in Arkansas and Idaho, where Rep. Eric Redman, R-Post Falls, looks to ban Islamic law based on fears that it could supersede the U.S. or Idaho constitutions.

This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.

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