Bill aims to keep sharia law from making inroads in South Carolina

Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, is the sponsor of an anti-sharia law bill.

COLUMBIA — South Carolina isn’t known as a hotbed of radical Islam, but one state lawmaker isn’t taking any chances.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, aims to keep sharia law out state courts by outlawing its use as a defense.

“Our country is at war with radical Islam,” Limehouse said. “We’ve had Americans with their heads lopped off.”

He said the state and the country at large should push back, even if Islamic law isn’t an immediate threat.

“You can’t predict the future,” he said. “You never know what might happen.”

Sharia law is sometimes used in Muslim communities to settle contract disputes or family matters, although American courts are not bound by those rules. The terrorist group ISIS has used the 14th century laws to justify beheading of prisoners in Syria and Iraq. That behavior has been condemned by Muslims around the world, who say the group is misusing ancient texts and laws to justify their own brand of terrorism.

Limehouse conceded that he knows of no instances in South Carolina in which anyone has attempted to inject sharia law into legal proceedings, and another dismissed Limehouse’s bill as Republican fear-mongering to people in tin foil hats

Limehouse cited the Center for Security Policy, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank, that has prompted states around the country to introduce laws banning the use of foreign or sharia laws. Those states are Tennessee, Louisiana, Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Washington, Alabama and Florida, according to the center.

“(E)ven institutions like our judiciary can be influenced — and potentially subverted — by foreign legal codes and practices, to the grave detriment of our nation and liberties,” the center wrote on its website. The research center said it found 146 cases in 32 states where sharia law was used as a legal argument.

Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he expects the bill to pass.

Most attorneys and judges don’t know what sharia law is, said Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat and defense attorney who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

It is not an acceptable defense in a courtroom and judges, courts and attorneys are not bound by it, he said. “When we do stuff like this, there is a segment of the population that when you talk about aliens and mind control, they do believe in tin foil hats,” Rutherford said. “It goes to show you how deep (Republicans) are reaching to play to people’s fears. Nobody even knows what he’s talking about.”

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Hamid Khan, an Islamic law expert who teaches at the University of South Carolina, said Oklahoma’s law was challenged and overturned by federal court, in part because it violated the First Amendment right to free speech.

He said groups like ISIS are distorting laws and texts that are complex, and which have values that wouldn’t necessarily apply in the modern world — like some of those laid out in the Old Testament.

“These guys are reading books like ‘Islam for Dummies,’ ” Khan said.

Khan said sharia law is likely getting attention around the country because of politicization in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He compared it to the McCarthy era, when thousands were falsely accused of having Communist ties in the 1950s.

“There is often this idea of an unnecessary fear,” said Khan, a Muslim. “I don’t (take) particular offense to it. I think there needs to be more public debate that isn’t so insular or reactionary.”

The bill is expected to be discussed Tuesday afternoon.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.