JACKSON — Some Mississippi lawmakers want to ban state courts from using or enforcing foreign law and to prevent the state from participating in United Nations-inspired sustainable development efforts.
Both measures reflect concerns among some Republicans about improper foreign and international influence on American affairs. Proponents of the foreign law-measure fear courts might refer to the compendiums of Muslim religious law known as Sharia. Agenda 21 opponents fear that local governments will restrict choices about where and how to live.
The House voted 116-1 Wednesday to pass House Bill 177, which would ban use of foreign law. It voted 78-37 for House Bill 490, which would ban any Mississippi governments from adopting sustainable development principles laid out in Agenda 21, a nonbinding 1992 United Nations declaration.
Opponents of Sharia law bans denounce them as biased against Muslims.
“These laws are a solution in search of a problem,” said Heather Weaver of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “They are unnecessary and typically motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. They offend our core American commitment to religious freedom and pluralism.”
No lawmakers made that argument Wednesday.
House Bill 177 says it’s designed to protect constitutional rights including “due process, freedom of religion, speech, or press, and any right of privacy or marriage.”
The bill says any court or agency ruling that “would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the United States and Mississippi Constitutions” would be void.
At least eight other states have passed bans on foreign and Sharia law, including Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said he could cite no instances of Mississippi courts adopting foreign law, and only one case in another state.
“It’s more prophylactic than anything else,” Smith said. “It’s not just Muslim law, it’s all foreign law.”
Smith said that the bill would also ban companies from signing contracts governed by foreign law, but the bill specifically excludes businesses choosing to contract under foreign law.
At least five other states have passed measures against Agenda 21, according to a University of California study. Opponents warn the nonbinding declaration could end up restricting property rights or other freedoms. Those who oppose Agenda 21 bans have denounced them elsewhere as motivated by baseless fears.
House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Mark Baker, R-Brandon, said without the measure, governments could cut into the ability of Mississippians to live in suburbs or consume as much energy as they want.
“We don’t need someone else telling us about our way of life,” Baker said.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, asked who was supporting the bill.
“Are there prohibitions against black helicopters in this bill?” Brown asked. “Some of the tea party folks, I understand, have been all over this.”
Baker noted the 2012 national Republican Party platform opposed Agenda 21.
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