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Today’s St. Louis Post Dispatch suggests that new lawmakers, voted into office after term-limits removed more experienced legislators, are being taken advantage of by lobbyists. The example that is given is a bill introduced by Rep. Ellen Brandom (R-160) that targets extra large marijuana cigarettes – and that was, it turns out, submitted “verbatim” as written by a “friend” who was, unbeknownst to Brandom, a lobbyist for the cigar industry, which wanted to “throw an elbow at rivals in the rolling paper business that could cut into its sales.”

This story of legislative credulity makes me wonder about  HB708,  introduced by Rep. Paul Curtman (R-105). The bill seeks to ban foreign laws from Missouri courts. Although it specifies international law systems, its focus is, admittedly, Muslim Sharia law – since you never know when those sneaky Muslims will try to take over the legal system.

According to the Turner Report, Curtman’s bill was based almost word for word on a model prepared by a well-known Islamophobe and white supremacist, David Yerushalmi. To give you an idea about how bad Yerushalmi is, Mother Jones, the source of this information, quotes him as saying that “there’s a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote.”

So is Curtman sympathetic to Yerushalmi’s views in general? Or is he just naive, poorly informed, and easily misled by by others who have taken advantage of his fantasies of heroically riding the constitution onto the legislative stage? His rhetoric on the issue certainly combines what I have come to think of as that special Curtman mixture of self-congratulation and grandiosity:

I think this is another important step in defending the rights and liberties of our citizens, … Our heritage is grounded in the idea that our government must protect those rights and liberties. This legislation will help make it clear the constitution and laws of our country are the only laws that should be considered when governing our citizens in our country.

However, he also seems more than a little befuddled, since he is unable to offer any substantive examples of creeping Sharia – which might suggest all by itself that his actions are really just motivated by run-of-the-mill xenophobia,

Certainly, those, like Curtman, who seek to thwart Sharia law by banning the intrusion of foreign legal systems don’t always seem to understand all the implications. For instance, there are corporations based in Missouri that do considerable international business. It’s reasonable to suppose that they might need to make contracts based on international arbitration standards that will be honored in Missouri.  

Nor, contrary to Rep. Curtman’s patriotic preening, are there any real constitutional issues to be settled, since, as has frequently been pointed out when the topic of Sharia law arises, the 1st amendment insures that there will be no religious encroachment on our legal system by Muslims, Hindus, or even – gasp – Christians:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s worth noting that this amendment also protects Muslims, Jews, Mormons and others who wish to conform to the legal dictates of their religion in their personal and communal religious lives, as long as they do not violate federal or state statutes. As critics of the Christian nation types have been saying all along, separation of church and state isn’t really about whether or not one says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” but is a necessary principle that serves to protect all religions by protecting our diverse population from overreach on the part of any particular religion.

So when we weigh the evidence, what we have is a proposed law that answers no real present need, could interfere with international commerce, and which is precluded by the actual constitution. It does, however, help exacerbate the current climate of virulent Muslim bashing on the part of the right wing.

Consequently, it seems clear that although Rep. Curtman may indeed be naive, he is not at all adverse to demagoguing anti-Muslim sentiment. Nor does one necessarily have any confidence that he would repudiate the more overt racism of his bill’s original fabricator, Mr. Yerushalmi. No matter how much one is tempted to give him the same pass one might grant the over-wrought adolescent he so resembles, unlike the gullible Rep. Brandom, it’s hard to think of any way he can honestly disavow the obvious goals of HB708.