Missouri House mulls ban on foreign laws

A man who described himself as a former member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Muslim Brotherhood said Wednesday that he supports a Missouri proposal to bar courts from considering international law or Sharia, which is the Islamic religious law.

Kamal Saleem told a Missouri House committee that Sharia law limits free speech rights and can require harsh penalties. Saleem, who is now Christian, operates a ministry. He testified Wednesday by telephone, which is unusual because witnesses who testify before legislative committees generally speak in person.

“Freedom of speech, pursuit of happiness, freedom of thought — these are illegal in Islam because they are death. Those who practice those things, they are commanded to die by the sword of Islam because they are anti-Sharia law,” Saleem said. “In Islam, you cannot think or have your own freedom.”

Saleem has spoken publicly before, including in 2008 at the Air Force Academy at a forum titled “Dismantling Terrorism.” That forum with two other men generated controversy, and some professors have questioned the men’s accounts about their background. The Air Force has said the three men had been checked out by Air Force intelligence and are genuine.

Numerous states have considered restrictions on using international law. Last November, voters in Oklahoma approved a constitutional amendment that bans the use of Sharia law in state courts, but that measure has since been challenged in federal court.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has criticized similar restriction proposals elsewhere, stating that Sharia is a guide to Islamic religious practice.

Missouri’s proposal would amend the state constitution and direct the courts not to look at legal precepts of other nations or cultures, specifically instructing judges not to consider international law or Sharia law.

Rep. Don Wells, who’s sponsoring the measure, said Sharia law can be oppressive, particularly toward women.

Wells, pointing out that he’s not opposed to Muslims and that an aide and a family member are Islamic, said courts in the U.S. should not consider laws crafted overseas.

Some critics said the proposed constitutional amendment was offensive, and others warned of possible unintended consequences such as making it harder for Missouri businesses to enter contracts with firms from other countries.

The House committee also considered legislation that would restrict the use of international law in Missouri, without referencing Sharia law.

Under that bill, court and arbitration decisions would be void if they are based on a foreign legal code that does not offer the same protections as the Missouri and U.S. constitutions.

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