HELENA, Mont. — The Montana House of Representatives has advanced a bill that would ban Sharia law in the state.
Senate Bill 97, sponsored by Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, passed mainly along party lines on Monday 56-44. While it does not specifically mention Sharia law, it was often the focus of discussion during debate.
“If you go back and listen to the testimony of the proponents of this bill in both the House and Senate, the legislative intent is crystal clear that it targets one religion,” Rep. Ellie Hill Smith, D-Missoula, said. “That this was a Shariah law bill. It’s what every proponent had talked about.”
“It is the public policy of this state to protect its citizens from the application of foreign law when the application of foreign law will violate a right guaranteed by the Montana constitution or the United States constitution, including but not limited to due process, freedom of religion, speech, or press, and any right of privacy or marriage as specifically defined by the constitution and the laws of this state,” the bill reads in part.
However, Republicans disagree that the legislation singles out Muslims and took offense at assertions that the bill is xenophobic.
“We’ve heard a lot of discussion about this being a religious law. I just don’t read it that way,” said Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton. “We are born with rights and government exists to protect those rights. We’re given those rights as individuals and that’s what makes us better than other countries that are based on collective rights.”
Residents who support the measure made similar remarks.
“We have allowed legal immigrants, illegal immigrants and now refugees to take advantage of our law and culture to take up their own agendas,” Sandy Montgomery of Flathead told the Missoulian. “They have no intention to abide by our laws, nor are they interested in assimilating to our culture.”
But Democrats disagreed, stating that the bill sends a message that Americans are not welcoming.
“I think it sends a dangerous message to minority groups both here living in our state and wanting to come visit our state, just merely on the fact that you may be different,” Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, said during Monday’s floor debate. “I truly believe this law is repugnant. I believe this is not who we are as Montanans.”
Smith proposed an amendment that would not only ban Sharia, but also parts of biblical law—followed by both Jews and Christians—from being the basis of state law. However, it failed 82-18.