Right-Wing Media's Sharia Hysteria, Texas Edition

Conservative media outlets hyped a misleading Breitbart report on an “Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law” in Texas to fear monger that the tribunals could supersede federal law. But the tribunals are completely voluntary and do not override federal law.

Right-Wing Media Report On Voluntary Sharia Court In Texas

Breitbart Reports On Existence Of Sharia Court In Texas. In a January 27 post, Breitbart Texas reported that they confirmed the existence of an “Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law in Texas.” A Breitbart representative claimed to have spoken to one of the judges employed at the court, who said that the court “follows Sharia law to resolve civil disputes in family and business matters,” and arbitrates workplace disputes. The post noted that the judge “restated several times that participation in the tribunal is voluntary. However, he would not discuss what happens to someone who did not follow their rulings.” [Breitbart.com, 1/27/15]

Right-Wing Media Personalities Hype Sharia Hysteria

Fox Hypes Myth That Sharia Law Could Override American Law. Fox legal analyst Andrew Napolitano appeared on the January 29 edition of Fox & Friends to discuss the reported existence of a Sharia court in Texas. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked Napolitano if a sharia court decision “would override American law?” Napolitano answered “yes,” if “both parties consent to abide by the decision of the court.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends1/29/15

Pamela Geller On Breitbart Texas Report: “This Is How It Starts.” A post at Breitbart by Pamela Geller raised fears that the Texas Sharia court would allow parts of Sharia law to be practiced unchecked in Texas:

Will the Texas Sharia court also turns [sic] a blind eye to spousal abuse, like the British Sharia court that heard Jameela's case, in accord with this Qur'anic directive? “Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that Allah has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for Allah's guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them.” (Qur'an 4:34)

You think that couldn't happen in Texas? When asked what he would do when Islamic law conflicted with American law, El-badawi said: “We follow Sharia law.” [Breitbart.com, 1/28/15]

Sharia Courts Are Voluntary, Similar To Other Religious Arbitration

Decisions By Sharia Courts Do Not Override American Law. A 2012 The Nation article by a lawyer who worked on more than 100 cases involving Sharia explained that, “what the anti-Sharia movement ignores is that [...] the extent of its applicability is always dictated by American law.” [The Nation6/13/15]

ACLU: US  Courts Reserve The Right To “Determine Whether The Arbitration Provision Is Valid And Enforceable.” An ACLU report entitled “Debunking the Mythical 'Sharia Threat' to our Judicial System,” explained that US courts can vacate arbitration done in religious courts like Sharia:

It is well established that, if a party contracts to arbitrate its claims but later refuses to do

so in accordance with the terms of the arbitration provision, a court may determine whether the arbitration provision is valid and enforceable. A court may also confirm or enforce a binding arbitration award if one side refuses to comply with the decision, or vacate an arbitration award if it violates public policy. Accordingly, these decisions follow basic, neutral principles of law and no more advance Sharia than arbitration cases involving rabbinical arbitration tribunals or Christian arbitrators. [ACLU, Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System, 2011

Pew: Similar Arbitration Courts Exist In Other Religions.  A 2013 Pew Forum analysis noted that other religious courts are “routine” and operate on an “everyday basis”: 

Across the United States, religious courts operate on a routine, everyday basis. The Roman Catholic Church alone has nearly 200 diocesan tribunals that handle a variety of cases, including an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 marriage annulments each year.1 In addition, many Orthodox Jews use rabbinical courts to obtain religious divorces, resolve business conflicts and settle other disputes with fellow Jews. Similarly, many Muslims appeal to Islamic clerics to resolve marital disputes and other disagreements with fellow Muslims. For the most part, religious courts and tribunals operate without much public notice or controversy. [Pew, Applying God's Law: Religious Courts and Mediation in the U.S., 4/8/13

US Court Ruled Ban On Sharia An Unconstitutional Breach Of Religious Freedom. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that an Oklahoma law preventing state courts from considering Sharia was unconstitutional, saying it unfairly discriminated between religions to prohibit considering Islamic law and not other religious law. The judge's decision noted that “state attorneys admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of any instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.” [Wall Street Journal8/16/13