A rare moment of rational debate broke out in the Texas Senate last week in the most unlikely of places — a committee hearing on a proposal to ban Texas courts from imposing “foreign law” (code for Sharia law) on citizens. Hearings on this contentious subject in previous years have been marked by open bigotry and wild accusations against Muslim Americans. But the Senate Business & Commerce Committee’s consideration of SB 1639 by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, took a different tone.
There were, to be sure, several testifiers who warned of the threat of a “hostile system of laws that has crept into our community” and peddled thinly veiled paranoia. But after these folks had their say, the committee heard from a parade of informed, thoughtful testifiers who systematically took apart the case for the bill. Pastors, interfaith groups, civil liberty organizations and attorneys specializing in family law each in their turn challenged the need for — and motivation behind — the proposed bill.
The key exchange came at the end of incisive testimony by Karl Hayes of the Texas Family Law Foundation:
Hayes: “None of the proponents who have come forth to testify on this bill can name you a single case in the state of Texas where an individual’s fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution were abridged by a Texas court enforcing a foreign law. There is no case in the jurisprudence of Texas where that has happened, so there is no problem here.”
Sen. Carona: “In your view there is not a single case yet that has created such a wrong. I would simply reply, ‘And should there be?’ …I would not disagree with you that this bill is preventive in nature.”
That, it seems to me, is as close to an admission that the emperor has no clothes as you are likely to see in politics. Even the bill’s author grants that there is no issue or problem this bill addresses. Any “threat” must be conjured.
To his credit, Sen. Carona — who both authored the bill and chairs the committee where it was heard — gave opponents of his bill a full opportunity to make their case. Moreover, he treated them with seriousness and respect, a courtesy not always on display in other Senate committees. Now let’s hope he takes their words to heart.