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Indiana GOP senator says bill aimed at Islamic law concerns

January 3, 2017

One of the Indiana legislators proposing to prohibit state judges from referring to foreign laws says he is concerned that Islamic religious law could be cited in civil cases.

A bill filed by Republican Sen. Travis Holdman of Markle for the Legislature's 2017 session would block judges from using foreign law to impose a restriction that would violate a person's constitutional rights.

The bill centers on denying the "application of foreign law" and doesn't mention Sharia or Islamic law. Holdman, however, was clear about the motivation 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.

Indiana University law professor David Orentlicher, a former Democratic legislator, said the change isn't needed because courts already protect fundamental constitutional rights and such a prohibition could affect foreign proceedings that are usually recognized by state courts, such as foreign marriages and divorces.

"It doesn't solve an existing problem, and creates a new problem," Orentlicher said.

Republican Sen. Jeff Raatz of Centerville filed a similar bill for the legislative session that starts Tuesday. Such measures filed the past two years have failed to win legislative approval, but nine other states have such laws.

Republican Sen. Rodric Bray of Martinsville, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he hasn't decided whether the panel will consider the proposal.

The bills also say judges shouldn't interpret the law as allowing them to decide "ecclesiastical matters" if such intervention would violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

Chris Paulsen, director of the gay-rights group Freedom Indiana, said she is concerned that the bill could "open a can of worms."

Freedom Indiana on Friday sent out a plea to its supporters about the bill, citing concern that it could allow a religious organization to violate local nondiscrimination laws.

Holdman said the proposal "doesn't have anything to do with religious freedom."

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