TOPEKA, Kan. -- A bill designed to prevent Kansas courts or government agencies from making decisions based on Islamic or other foreign legal codes has cleared the state Legislature after a contentious debate about whether the measure upholds American values or appeals to prejudice against Muslims.
The Senate approved the bill Friday on a 33-3 vote. The House had approved it, 120-0, earlier in the week. The measure goes next to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who hasn't said whether he'll sign or veto the measure.
The measure doesn't specifically mention Shariah law, which broadly refers to codes within the Islamic legal system. Instead, it says that courts, administrative agencies or state tribunals can't base rulings on any foreign law or legal system that would not grant the parties the same rights guaranteed by state and U.S. constitutions.
But several supporters specifically cited the potential use of Shariah law in Kansas as their concern. Though there are no known cases in which a Kansas judge has based a ruling on Islamic law, supporters of the bill cited a pending case in Sedgwick County in which a man seeking to divorce his wife has asked for property to be divided under a prenuptial agreement in line with Shariah law.
The bill's supporters said it simply ensures that legal decisions will protect long-cherished liberties, such as freedom of speech and religion and the right to equal treatment under the law. Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said a vote for the legislation is a vote to protect women.
"In this great country of ours and in the state of Kansas, women have equal rights," Wagle said during the Senate's debate. "They stone women to death in countries that have Shariah law."
The bill passed both chambers by wide margins because even some legislators who were skeptical of it believed it was broad and bland enough that it didn't represent a specific political attack on Muslims.
"We don't have any intolerance in this bill. Nobody's stripped of their freedom of religion," said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican. "This is talking about the law - American law, American courts."
But several senators noted that supporters of the bill have singled out Shariah law in talking about it.
"This bill will put Kansas in a light that says we are intolerant of any other faith," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican who voted against the bill. "I would not be able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning if I didn't stand up and say I don't want to be that kind of person and I don't want to be in a community or a state that is that way."