Irving City Council votes to support bill prohibiting foreign law

The Irving City Council passed a resolution Thursday night to support a bill prohibiting any so-called foreign law. It takes aim at sharia law, and local Muslims say they are being unfairly targeted.

It's part of the American Laws for American Courts movement sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Leach. It reaffirms that foreign laws may not be used in family court cases, like divorce or custody issues.

It's already illegal to use foreign laws in the United States.

Support for House Bill 562 passed 5-4, but there were plenty of dissenters in the crowd. It's similar to one that was passed in 2010 in Oklahoma but was struck down in federal court for being unconstitutional.

Four people spoke in favor of the resolution Thursday night, and six against. At times, the meeting got testy among the council.

Councilman Dennis Webb was a very vocal opponent who got into an argument with the mayor over the vote, and one councilmember who quoted scripture got a standing ovation for opposing the resolution.

Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne has accused local Muslim leaders in the past of creating their own laws, called sharia law, and adjudicating that doctrine, bypassing the state and federal court system.

Catholic and Jewish faiths also have similar tribunals presided over by faith leaders who act as arbitrators, but the local imam in Irving says Islam is being targeted, yet not breaking any law.

"They believe that we are trying to supersede the federal or state laws, and that's not the case," said Imam Zia Sheikh with the Islamic Center of Irving. "We work within the boundaries of federal and state law."

"This bill does not mention, at all, Muslim, sharia law, Islam, even religion," said Van Duyne. "It specifically talks about foreign laws not taking precedent over U.S. laws and those in the State of Texas."

Imam Sheikh is the co-founder of the Islamic Tribunal, which he says holds hearings over marriages, custody, family issues and business disputes once a month at a facility in Arlington.

He says there are 8,000 to 10,000 Muslims who live in Irving, and 100,000 in the DFW area.

This is not the first attempt at removing foreign law; it's been proposed in previous legislative sessions.

House Bill 562 will be heard in committee next week.

The bill does not stop the tribunals. It prohibits applying foreign law if it infringes on state law.

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