South Dakota Governor Signs Unconstitutional Anti-Muslim Bill

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"South Dakota Governor Signs Unconstitutional Anti-Muslim Bill"

Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R-SD)

Yesterday, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) signed an unconstitutional law that purports to target courts applying religious law, but which is almost certainly part of a broader push by Islamophobic advocates to fight the imaginary problem of courts substituting Islamic law for American law. The brief bill Daugaard signed provides simply that “[n]o court, administrative agency, or other governmental agency may enforce any provisions of any religious code.”

Although this bill does not specifically call out any particular religion for ill treatment, it violates the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution. As the Supreme Court explained in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, “the protections of the Free Exercise Clause pertain if the law at issue discriminates against some or all religious beliefs or regulates or prohibits conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.”

While it is uncommon for American courts to apply religious law, it is not unheard of. Private parties sometimes enter into contracts where they agree to resolve their disputes under something other than U.S. law, and individuals sometimes write wills devising their property according to the tenets of their faith. Under the bill Daugaard signed, however, courts will be allowed to enforce contracts requiring disputes to be resolved under French law or ancient Roman law or under the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons second edition rules, but they won’t be allowed to enforce contracts requiring disputes to be resolved under the requirements of someone’s religious beliefs. This is discrimination “against some or all religious beliefs,” and is therefore unconstitutional.

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