Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly passed H695 by a vote of 69-42. The bill, referred to as “Foreign Laws/Protect Constitutional Rights,” aims to prohibit state courts from applying any foreign laws in marriage and family cases. The measure, sponsored in the House by Rep. Chris Whitmire, is now being considered in the Senate.
Though the bill does not explicitly mention Islam, Sharia or other religious law, it is clear that the intent of this effort is to ban Sharia law. H695 is based on model legislation from the American Public Policy Alliance’s “American Laws for American Courts” initiative (ALAC), which specifically targets Sharia.
Much of the discussion surrounding H695 has mentioned efforts to obscure the bill’s original intent by removing references to religion and narrowing the restrictions to matters of family law. Some news outlets and blogs have even mentioned the bill’s roots in the ALAC model. Equally, or perhaps more, important is this bill’s link to the original ALAC author, David Yerushalmi, an anti-Muslim activist and lawyer with a record of extremist rhetoric and questionable ties.
Yerushalmi is the founder of Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), an advocacy group that has published anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-black materials. The group also pushed legislation that would make adherence to sharia “a felony punishable by 20 years in prison.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, SANE asked Congress to declare war on the “Muslim nation” and to declare undocumented Muslim immigrants alien enemies.
In a 2006 essay on race, Yerushalmi wrote:
“If evolution and the biologists who espouse the theory are correct, then the idea that racial differences included innate differences in character and intelligence would[,] it seem[,] be more likely than not. … Why would the evolutionary and genetic processes have stopped at those traits we consider off-limits due to political correctness?”
Yerushalmi is a close ally of noted anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, whose organization he has represented several times in court.
Yerushalmi also works closely with Frank Gaffney, often branded as a fringe-right conspiracy theorist and antagonist. Gaffney told the New York Times in 2011 that the two men collaborated to “engender a national debate about the nature of Shariah and the need to protect our Constitution and country from it.” Gaffney heads the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a group linked to the American Public Policy Alliance for which Yerushalmi is general counsel.
With the help of the Tea Party and ACT! for America — a group Gaffney called a “force multiplier” — Yerushalmi and Gaffney have succeeded in getting 32 states to consider versions of the ALAC legislation. So far, six states — Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee — have adopted similar measures. Missouri’s version passed earlier this month and awaits a signature from the governor.
Florida’s version was narrowly defeated in a procedural vote in the final hours of this year’s session.
Despite the zeal fueling anti-Sharia legislation, Whitmire’s bill is a solution looking for a problem. When questioned by Rep. Paul Luebke, Whitmire admitted he is not aware of any cases in North Carolina that would have been affected by such legislation. Whitmire and his supporters argue, instead, that this measure is preventative.
In defense of his bill, Whitmire distributed handouts prepared by Stephen Gele, of the American Public Policy Alliance, the very group for which Yerushalmi drafted the ALAC model.
Whitmire also introduced two anti-immigrant bills (H160 and H218) this year and showed further disregard for the Constitution when he signed on as a co-sponsor of an ill-fated resolution that would have called on the state to declare Christianity as the official state religion, First Amendment notwithstanding.
It should go without saying that American courts do not need bills like H695 to prevent foreign laws from superseding provisions already set by the state and federal constitutions. The dubious origins of H695, show that this bill is not preventative, nor is it about preserving family court, as it’s proponents claim. Rather, H695 is part of a coordinated effort to discriminate against and marginalize religious minorities, particularly Muslims. Such a bill could also introduce a number of unintended consequences, as noted in a new report by the Center for American Progress.
That the bill was able to pass the House shows the lengths Speaker Thom Tillis and others are willing to go to win over the far-right bloc, who are ramming a number of destructive and divisive measures through the legislature this year. The North Carolina Senate, however, still has a chance to minimize the embarrassment brought on by this recent assault on common sense and distance the state from fear-mongers such as Yerushalmi.