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.