Q&A: Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, who Introduced the ‘Anti-Sharia Law’ Bill

I wrote an article for this week’s Philadelphia Weekly about the reactions to Pennsylvania House Bill 2029, which would ban foreign law from state courts. There’ve been many criticisms against this bill, not the least of which is that it promotes anti-Muslim bigotry and may inadvertently ban other religions which are respected in civil law proceedings, such as Orthodox Jewish Law. I was not able to speak with Rep. Rosemarie Swanger (R-Lebanon), who wrote the legislation, by press time. But she got back to me today. I’ve transcribed her response to several of the allegations made in the article by those against and for bills banning foreign law.

Swanger, who sounded naturally cheery and bubbly on the phone, says she’s never gotten so much press attention (and wasn’t sure if she and I had even talked yet) since her law was introduced, which she worked on with the group American Law for American Courts.

In Philadelphia there’s been a lot of fervor over this bill [HB 2029] being introduced. At a press conference hosted by the Council for American-Islamic Relations held last week, everyone criticized Bill 2029. That was the point. But I’ve also talked to people in favor of such legislation.

Yes, I’ve heard from more people in favor than I’ve heard against. I know the Islamic group is saying that I’ve targeted Sharia Law. But if you look at my bill or read my bill, there’s nothing in it about Sharia Law. It just says ‘foreign law’ and I also have quite a few exceptions in my bill. One of them is, it shall not infringe upon religious freedom. I’m talking specifically about our civil and criminal court system here in our country. My main concern is rights for women because I know that under some foreign law, women certainly don’t have the rights that they have here in our country, under our constitution. So, I know, I want to make sure in our courts those rights are protected and everyone gets the freedom and privileges afforded to them and the rights of the U.S. and state constitution. It’s really nothing more than that. I think people are reading things into it that just aren’t there.

I want to get to some of what you mentioned about women’s rights but what many have mentioned, at the press conference specifically, was a memo that you had sent out before the bill which–

–I know exactly what they’re talking about…what I sent to the Justice committee was a model law that has been passed in other states and it said nothing about Sharia Law. I said nothing about it when I sent it over there. And when it came back, it was rife with references to Sharia Law. I still didn’t find out who wrote it but I am pretty livid about that. That was not my intention. As soon as I found out what happened I pulled it, and we sent out a corrected one.

It came to my secretary and she said, ‘Your ALAC memo – American Law for American Courts—came back. Do you want me to send it out for co-sponsorship?’ And not thinking, I said ‘Sure,’ you know? I had no idea how it was going to be written but it’s just, it was unacceptable. It was not my intention and it was pulled. And it never went around. Apparently somebody who’s not my friend sent it out and made it public because it is not what should have gone out. I want to get to the bottom of it but I have to wait, of course, until next year.

Earlier, you said you were specifically concerned with women’s rights as it pertains to foreign law. What specifically, as it pertains to women’s rights, are you afraid of?

I’m concerned that in child custody cases, in some foreign countries, they don’t have as many – how should I say? – here in our country, it’s pretty well given that they will go to the mother unless she’s a little (laughs) or whatever. Or, just incapable of taking care of the children. In other countries, it’s the exact opposite and it’s a given that the father will take custody of the children. I think here in our country, we should do things the way we do it. We should abide by our laws and not take into consideration any kind of foreign law in our courts.

Is there any evidence of foreign law having come into Pennsylvania courts?

No, there isn’t. But there has been in other states, and I like to be proactive and I like to make sure that it doesn’t.

When it comes to foreign laws, some have mentioned that, for instance, Orthodox Jews, when it comes to getting a divorce—

–I’ve heard that too. I said in my bill it’s not going to infringe on anybody’s freedoms. And Jewish law is not part, that’s not, that’s a religious law. That’s not in our court system. Unless there’s a decision in that structure that somebody doesn’t like and appeals it to our civil courts, that’s not going to be affected. And I’m going to work on language that would make that crystal clear. Because I don’t want to take—people are talking about how they couldn’t do Jewish autopsies anymore, have the kosher ceremonies for their food, that’s not my intent. Not at all. That’s part of their freedom of religion to have those things. Stuff like that.

I know you said earlier that the taking on Sharia Law is not your intention—

–not solely, but of course it would be included, since it’s foreign law. Sure, but I certainly didn’t target that or mean that’s the only thing it’s going to apply to.

–and one of the people I talked to said he believes based on court decisions in other states, Islamic law is, he called it ‘creeping’ — slowly taking over and getting sympathetic judges to rule in their favor. Would you say there’s evidence of that happening and was that part of your intention at all?

Well, I’d been working with a group called ALAC and they did give me information about a case in Florida. And I don’t know if I have my facts straight, but it was a case in Florida that was in family court that concerned child custody, which I mentioned. And then I think there was one in New Jersey recently. That I’m not clear of, but somebody said it was protection from abuse. It involved domestic violence. Again, I don’t know the details of it, but I know that judges in those two states did take Sharia Law into account and did use it to base their decision.

Why do you think that’s been happening?

Why? I couldn’t tell you that. It boggles my mind that a judge wouldn’t base his or her rulings on our constitution and our law. I can’t speak for those judges. I have no idea what they’re thinking. No idea.

One lawyer who’s a representative for CAIR said she’s willing to fight this law all the way to the Supreme Court.

OK. Well, what’s she doing in other states? (laughs) There are other states that have also adopted this. This was not my bright idea. I mean, she’s got quite a few states where she’s got to fight this. Because I mean—and I don’t even know if it will pass. Who knows? But it wouldn’t only be here in Pennsylvania. She has that right, but how ridiculous. This is America. Don’t we follow American law? I’ve even asked people who’ve emailed me with their–they’re reading all kinds of horrible hypotheticals, and I ended up by saying, ‘If you don’t want American law in our courts, what country’s law do you think we should follow?’ You know? It just boggles my mind. This is America. We should follow American law. We should treat everyone with the respect and the freedoms that they have in our country.

Her concern was that she thinks these laws are a charade in order to take on the Muslim population.

Oh God. She’s entitled to her opinion. Let’s just leave it at that.

Another person, a Jewish rabbi, said that she thinks these laws are reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s in which Jewish law was constantly criticized and denounced up in court…

Are you ready to take on critics who are saying these things about this law that you’ve proposed?

I’m not afraid to stand up for our country and our rights and freedoms. Sure, I’ll take them on. I feel a duty to stand up for our rights and citizens. Yeah, I’m ready to take them on.

15 Responses to “ Q&A: Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, who Introduced the ‘Anti-Sharia Law’ Bill ”

  1. The goal of anti-sharia laws is to retain the Constitution as the law of the land. It should not be necessary to take such steps, but a judiciary that is turning more and more to sharia and other unconstitutional sources make it incumbent upon those who value the protections of the Constitution to take action. Currently there are cases in all 50 states being judged by laws never passed by any legislature or embodied in the Constitution. When CAIR attorneys say they are working against anti-Moslem attitudes, the flip side is that they are working against the Constitution. As CAIR Director Ibriham Hooper has opined, they want to see the Constitution replaced by a more sharia-compliant system, though they would not want the change to be by violent means.

  2. B A says:

    Rep. Swanger is frightening.

  3. B M says:

    How is it that someone always want to get rid of something that pertains or affects any non-white race. Rep. RoseMarie Swanger wants to abolish, remove foreign law. Why would she want to remove a law that affects her heritage as well as others. Her family are foreigners as well as Muslims, Jewish, Spanish or any other who ancestor are not from America. Suppose her family from England wanted to come to Pennsylvania to live what that law apply to them or are they the exception to the rule. The Descendents of her name “Swanger immigrated into Philadelphia in 1747 from the Lorraine Province of Germany the English part from England who landed in Ellis Island and according to history were slave owners, which led to some African Americans having the same last name. According to reports there are nine genealogical lineage running through the blood of that name. I’m quite sure she is aware of that. So with someone who have this type of background how could she impose such a bill (2029). She need to rethink what she’s trying to do. People are not going to stand by and accept it, “by any means necessary”. “So Sad!”

  4. Philly RN says:

    People seem confused that US law has evolved to recognize human rights, and to suddenly introduce non-US law or religious law undermines that critical evolution that is so particular to secular law.

    Whether this is sharia law, or any other religion that seeks to remove US law and subtract their own, the result of such a process would run counter to the US process outlined in our legal system, based on the US Constitution.

    This threatens the critical gains in the rights of women and children in the law, in areas such as divorce, custody, visitation, support, and other areas.

    There was a case in NJ where the judge allowed an Islamic marital contract to override NJ state law. This is the kind of precedent that undermined the rights of the wife as a US citizen.

    It will not be possible to simply write a contract where you “opt out” of US law with the passage of legal guarantees to that effect. That is essentially what too many Islamic law marriage contracts attempt to do. These are written in formal a formal Arabic that few women understand, and many women state that they are not allowed to read the contract they are compelled to sign in an Islamic marriage.

    This simply goes to far in the United States. One cannot circumvent US law with a foreign concept with no legal basis in the US, and to attempt to engage this as a precedent undermines critical gains by women in the US.

  5. Philly RN says:

    It is very odd that liberals and Democrats are suddenly so quick to discard the gains in the rights of women and children to suddenly pick up the feverish banner of the recognition of foreign legal systems in the US, such as Sharia law. I guess women and children don’t have the deep pockets.

  6. Philly RN says:

    At a time when there has been an uptick of violence in Muslim households against women and children, it is critical to send a message that women and children are endowed with inalienable rights under US law that cannot be abridged by another outside doctrine.

    This will create safer families here in the US, and guarantee that all rights for all women and children are equal no matter their religion.

  7. [...] we heard about this bill, Rep. Swanger told us her intent had nothing to do with a threat of Sharia Law, even though that’ll be included. Swanger’s intent was allegedly stated on a memo she sent out [...]

  8. Patriot says:

    Technically, the second paragraph of Article VI of the US Constitution already prevents the use of laws other than US law. Just read it. Any judge that permits the use of laws other than US law is in violation of the US Constitution.

  9. [...] of Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2029’s chief sponsor, does highlight Islamic law, but she later said that it had been circulated accidentally. Regardless, concerns about Shari’a are warranted due to [...]

  10. [...] of Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2029’s chief sponsor, does highlight Islamic law, but she later said that it had been circulated accidentally. Regardless, concerns about Shari’a are warranted due to [...]

  11. [...] of Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2029’s chief sponsor, does highlight Islamic law, but she later said that it had been circulated accidentally. Regardless, concerns about Shari’a are warranted due to [...]

  12. [...] Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2029′s chief sponsor, does highlight Islamic law, but she later said that it had been circulated accidentally. Regardless, concerns about Shari’a are warranted [...]

  13. [...] of Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2029′s chief sponsor, does highlight Islamic law, but she later said that it had been circulated accidentally. Regardless, concerns about Shari’a are warranted [...]

  14. [...] of Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2029′s chief sponsor, does highlight Islamic law, but she later saidthat it had been circulated accidentally. Regardless, concerns about Shari’a are warranted due [...]

  15. [...] of Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2029′s chief sponsor, does highlight Islamic law, but she later said that it had been circulated accidentally. Regardless, concerns about Shari’a are warranted [...]

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