Sharia law bill stalled after opponents ridicule sponsors

Rep. Chip Limehouse is pushing a law that would ban foreign law from being used in U.S. courts.

COLUMBIA — House Democrats and even a few Republicans on Thursday ridiculed GOP sponsors of a bill that seeks to keep Islamic and other foreign laws out of South Carolina courts.

A vote on the so-called Sharia law bill was postponed until Tuesday at the earliest after an hours-long debate over Charleston Republican Rep. Chip Limehouse’s proposal. Limehouse has said a law is needed to prevent radical Islamic beliefs from infiltrating state courts.

Democrats said the bill showed why the GOP was unfit to govern and why South Carolina is the butt of late-night television jokes. They accused Republicans of legislating off of Internet rumors.

Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, called the bill “red meat” and “politics at its worst,” while Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, chastised Limehouse and others for having the wrong priorities.

“Bring some people in here who care about real issues, like whether or not somebody is going to put food on the table,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Much to Democrats’ delight, even some Republicans jumped in. Rep. Gary Clary, R-Clemson, a retired Circuit Court judge, told lawmakers that South Carolina judges do not rely on foreign law for their rulings.

“It’s much ado about nothing,” Clary said. “We’re trying to legislate in the future and I just think it’s a little overdone.”

Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Townville, a tea party-aligned lawmaker, said he withdrew his name from the bill because he believes the House has not adequately considered the law’s implications.

“I like my red meat medium rare,” Hill said, saying he wasn’t afraid of the issue for that reason.

Defenders of the measure said that events in Iraq and the growth of radical Islam mean that South Carolina should ensure that laws adhered to by militant groups like ISIS don’t end up in U.S. courts.

Sharia law is also 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 the beheading of prisoners in Syria and Iraq.

That behavior has been condemned by Muslims around the world, who say the group is misinterpreting ancient texts and laws to justify terrorism.

Limehouse has 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. The center has cited 146 cases in 32 states where Sharia law was used as a legal argument. Those states are Tennessee, Louisiana, Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Washington, Alabama and Florida, according to the center.

A fear of Islamic law has grown particularly among conservative groups around the country as terrorist groups have carried out attacks and spread their message on social media.

Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, said Republicans were fear-mongering. “Laws in this state ought to be based on our Constitution not on fear, not on suspicion,” he said. “We’re better than this because we don’t need to give in to fear ... and the kind of low-brow politics this seems to represent.”

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.