Problems with ‘using foreign law’ bill in Indiana

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, has proposed Senate Bill 16, which would prohibit judges from “using foreign law” to impose a restriction that would violate a person’s constitutional rights.

Holdman’s bill does not mention “Sharia” or “Islamic religious law,” but everyone understands that’s what it is aimed at, and he makes no secret of the intention behind the legislation.

“As constituents have raised concerns with me, they are concerned about such things as Sharia law being used as a legal standard in our courts,” Holdman told The Indianapolis Star.

The proposal makes Indiana part of a trend. So far, nine other states have passed similar legislation, and none of them mention Sharia, either. Similar proposals are under consideration in other states.

There are a couple of problems with Holdman’s proposal.

One is that it offers a solution where there is really no problem. Indiana courts are required to follow the laws and constitutions of this state and this country. The accused have rights rooted in our history and traditions, no matter what other factors judges use in making their decisions. We can order judges not to refer to the laws of other countries, but no one can make them stop using everything in their experience to bear on the cases they hear.

The other is that it could create a problem that doesn’t exist yet. One part of the proposal says that judges shouldn’t interpret the law to mean they should try to adjudicate “ecclesiastical matters” if such intervention from the court would violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. That stirs up the same old fear of religion being used to justify discrimination that was raised during the late, great Religious Freedom Restoration Act kerfuffle.

None of this is to suggest that Sharia is compatible with Western concepts of criminal justice. It isn’t. And the rapid growth of the Muslim community means there will be ever greater pressure to accommodate Sharia. The pervasive fear of being labeled an Islamophobe already causes the political class to be far more tolerant of Islam than they are of Christianity, and there’s no reason to expect that to change.

But there are other ways to deal with that reality. We don’t need one more dubious law cluttering up the books.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to