The office of the Republican governor of Kansas Sam Brownback, said Friday, that it has signed a bill prohibiting state courts and other agencies from using Islamic and other "non-U.S.laws" when making judgements and decisions.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations has denounced the law as a case of "Islamophobia" and said it is considering legal action.
Shariah law covers all aspects of Muslim life, including financial dealings, political and social issues.
Reuters reports that Sherriene Jones-Sontag, spokeswoman for the governor, said the new bill "makes it clear that Kansas courts will rely exclusively on the laws of our state and our nation when deciding cases and will not consider the laws of foreign jurisdictions."
According to AP, the new law taking effect July 1, does not specifically mention Shariah law but only says courts, administrative agencies or state tribunals are not allowed to base rulings on any foreign law or legal system that would not grant the parties the same rights guaranteed by state and U.S.Constitution.
Supporters of the law say it ensures that rulings will protect cherished American liberties, freedom of speech and religion and right to equal treatment under law. Reuters reports that Stephen Gele, spokesman for the American Public Policy Alliance, said the measure could apply if, for instance, someone wanted to enforce a libel judgment against an American from a foreign nation without the same free speech protections.
AP reports Gele, said, "This bill should provide protection for Kansas citizens from the application of foreign laws." He added: "The bill does not read, in any way, to be discriminatory against any religion."
However, Reuters reports the law has been dubbed the "Shariah Bill" because it is perceived as targeting the Islamic legal code. Opponents say that it could nullify wills or legal contracts between Muslims and that it singles out Muslims for ridicule. Opponents also say it is unnecessary because the constitution already makes it clear that U.S. laws prevail on U.S. soil.
But supporters counter by citing cases around the U.S. where judges and state agencies have relied on Shariah law in deciding cases, especially cases involving custody in divorce and property matters.
Jones-Sontang said: "This disturbing recent trend of activist judges relying upon the laws of other nations has been rejected by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the Kansas House and Senate."
AP reports that although there are no known cases in which a Kansas court based ruling on Islamic law, some citizens are expressing concern about the possibility, especially in the pending case in Sedgwick County, in which a man, seeking to divorce his wife, asked for property to be divided in line with Sharia law.
Although, chief sponsor of the bill Rep. Peggy Mast, said all Kansans, including Muslims, should be comfortable with the new law, AP reports that Muslim groups had urged Brownback to veto the bill, saying it is discriminatory. Spokesman of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper, said, "If he [Brownback] claims it has nothing to do with Sharia or Islamic law or Muslims, then he wasn't paying attention."
Hooper points to the fact that though the bill does not specifically mention Sharia, many legislators specifically singled out Shariah law during debates. AP reports, for instance, that during the Kansas Senate's debate on the bill earlier in the month, Sen. Susan Wagle, Wichita Republican, said that a vote for the measure was a vote for human rights. She referred disparagingly to Shariah, saying, "They stone women to death in countries that have Shariah law."
Hooper argued from such statements as Wagle's, that supporters of the law are targeting Islamic law. He said, "Underlying all of this is demonizing Islam and marginalizing American Muslims.".
Hooper also pointed out that although 20 states in the U.S. have considered similar legislation only Kansas has signed the bill into law. Hooper said: "It's unfortunate the governor chose to pander to the growing Islam-phobia in our society that has led to introduction of similar unconstitutional and un-American legislation in dozens of state legislatures."
Reuters reports that federal courts struck down a similar Oklahoma law voters approved in 2010 that barred state judges from considering Shariah law in making judgments. The courts described the law as discriminatory.
According to Reuters, to guard against similar legal challenges, the Kansas bill does not mention Shariah, although Kansas legislators openly singled out the Shariah law in debating the bill.