Politics & Government

Senate OKs bill to ban foreign laws

TOPEKA — A bill that would outlaw the use of foreign legal codes in Kansas courts — broadly written but particularly aimed at Islamic sharia law — is on its way to the governor.

The final Senate vote, a lopsided 33-3, came after a lengthy and at times emotional debate Friday on the last scheduled day of the session. Lawmakers said they plan to come back next week; unresolved issues include the budget, tax cuts and redistricting.

Voting had been closer on early procedural moves to try to send the bill back to committee.

Opponents, including two senators who signed the committee report to bring the bill to the Senate floor, argued that it is intolerant and unnecessary.

Proponents fired back that the bill protects the constitutions of Kansas and the United States and would prevent the use of foreign law to take away fundamental rights that are enjoyed in American courts.

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, apologized for putting the Senate in the position of having to vote on the bill.

“This is one where I made some mistakes; the first one was signing the conference report,” he said. “I believe this bill is unconstitutional (and) intolerant.”

Emphasizing that he himself is a Christian, Owens said, “I think this bill will set Kansas out as a place not to go if you believe any other way than particularly a very small religious-right perspective. … This country is based on freedom. And it isn’t ‘You can only be free if you think like me.’ ”

Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, supported the bill. Of opponents’ comments, he said, “I look back at those remarks and I almost think they’re outrageous. Not only have we had a stretch of the truth, we’ve had a stretch of the rules. We don’t have any intolerance in this bill. Nobody’s stripped of their freedom of religion. This is talking about the law, American law, American courts.”

Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, argued that sharia law itself is what’s intolerant.

“I find sharia law to take away all the rights of women,” Wagle said. “They stone women to death in countries that have sharia law, they (women) have no rights in court, female children are treated brutally. … In this great country of ours and in the state of Kansas, women have equal rights.”

The proponents of the bill noted several times that sharia was not specifically named and that the bill is applicable to all foreign laws and legal systems.

But in an impassioned speech, Sen. Chris Steineger, R-Kansas City, said the bill was obviously directed at Muslims.

He said he was originally approached about the bill in January. The original pitch wasn’t about protecting the Constitution, but that Muslims were trying to use sharia law to take over the United States and had to be stopped.

“I thought that was quite ludicrous at the time and I still do,” he said. “This (bill) doesn’t say sharia law, but that’s how it was marketed back in January and all session long, and I have all the e-mails to prove it.”