In the last few years, we’ve seen a rash of “anti-Sharia” bills pop up in state legislatures across the country. Lawmakers from Alaska to Texas to South Carolina have introduced legislation to combat the fictitious threat of Sharia law taking over the American judicial system.
This trend has been propagated by a small handful of anti-Muslim misinformation experts discussed in the Center for American Progress’ new report, “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America”. In chapter 2, we took a closer look at these various state bills and found remarkable similarity between them — with good reason.
Instead of state legislators around the country determining independently that Sharia law was somehow a threat to their state, they have largely been acting at the behest of a single anti-Islam activist: David Yerushalmi. The Brooklyn lawyer produced model “anti-Sharia” legislation — you can read it here — which has been slightly tailored and introduced in more than a dozen states.
One particularly egregious example is Texas. In April, state Rep. Leo Berman (R) introduced anti-Sharia legislation, not because it was an issue he had considered for some time and cared about deeply, but rather because he “heard it on a radio station here on [his] way in to the Capitol one day.” Berman went on to explain that he also heard Sharia law is accepted in Dearborn, Michigan and asked, “Isn’t that true?” (It is not true.)
The bill Berman introduced, HB 911, is a near carbon-copy to Yerushalmi’s model legislation. Here are a few examples of language that Berman lifted from Yerushalmi:
Section 1 of Berman’s bill:
In this chapter, “foreign law” means a law, rule, or legal code of a jurisdiction outside of the states and territories of the United States. [...]
Section 1 of Yerushalmi’s bill:
As used in this act, “foreign law, legal code, or system” means any law, legal code, or system of a jurisdiction outside of any state or territory of the United States, [...]
Section 3 of Berman’s bill:
A contract provision providing that a foreign law is to govern a dispute arising under the contract is void [...]
Section 3 of Yerushalmi’s bill:
A contract or contractual provision (if capable of segregation) which provides for the choice of a law, legal code or system to govern some or all of the disputes [...] shall violate the public policy of this State and be void [...]
Berman’s bill as a whole reads like a duplicate of Yerushalmi’s legislation with eraser marks here and there to tailor it to pre-existing Texas statutes. Were he in school, Berman would be accused of plagiarism. On page 40 of CAP’s report, you can find more instances of legislators using Yerushalmi’s model bill in their particular states.
The problem here is two-fold. First, David Yerushalmi did not register as a lobbyist in Texas, despite being the author of anti-Sharia legislation used by Berman. Were it not for investigations by outlets like ThinkProgress and Mother Jones, the public might never have known the true source of the bill.
But the larger issue is that when state legislators like Berman introduce anti-Sharia legislation, observers would naturally assume that this is being done in response to some particular threat in their state. In reality, the legislation is being fed to them by Yerushalmi and national anti-Muslim groups like ACT! for America as part of a larger Islamophobic effort.
This is precisely why we’ve seen anti-Sharia legislation pop up across the country. There is no “threat of Sharia,” but rather a small number of anti-Muslim misinformation experts who have demagogued the issue. State legislators like Leo Berman, who know little more about the issue than what they heard on the radio driving to work, mask the fact that individuals like Yerushalmi are the real players behind the anti-Sharia push.