Jones and Quinones-Sanchez call bill to ban foreign law 'mean-spirited' and 'unnecessary'
February 10, 2012By Aaron Moselle, for NewsWorks
Philadelphia City Council recently passed a resolution in opposition to a controversial state bill that opponents argue smacks of anti-Muslim sentiment.
Resolution 120031, co-sponsored by Seventh District Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez and Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., asks "Pennsylvania General Assembly to reject House Bill 2029 as unnecessary and inconsistent with our core constitutional principles, and affirming that the Council of the City of Philadelphia welcomes all religious beliefs, traditions and heritages, and does not entertain any concern that any foreign or religious law offers a threat to the law of the land."
State Rep. Rosemarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) introduced the measure, which essentially looks to bar foreign laws from state court proceedings.
"A tribunal shall not consider a foreign legal code or system which does not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights and privileges granted under the United States Constitution and Constitution of Pennsylvania," reads the bill.
Those liberties and rights include, "due process, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press and a right of privacy or marriage as specifically defined by the Constitution of Pennsylvania."
The bill does cite some exceptions, perhaps most notably that it should not impede a person's right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.
Unlike similar measures across the country, Swanger's does not specifically cite Sharia Law, the religious code of Islam.
Quinones-Sanchez said the bill still seems to single-out Muslims as being more likely than others to be terrorists.
"The language is mean-spirited and divisive at a time when we don't need that," she said.
Jones finds Swanger's effort similarly troubling.
"Get the government out of the business of religion," said Jones. "When we cross those paths, it's a problem. Freedom of religion is what the Commonwealth and the country was built upon. By meddling with that, we're doing away with everything the Commonwealth was founded on."
In a memo, though, sent out prior to the bill's introduction, Swanger writes, "America has unique laws of liberty which do not exist in foreign legal systems, particularly Sharia Law."
Swanger has reportedly distanced herself from that document, arguing that someone else sent it out under her name and that a second, corrected, version was later released.
Swanger could not be reached for comment for this story.
Either way, Amara Chaudhry, staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, agrees with Council and says the bill is not needed.
"Those protections are already in place, which makes me question whether that is the bill's true intent," said Chaudhry.
Chaundry would like to see the bill shot down by a committee vote. It's currently sitting in the House Judiciary Committee.