House Gives Preliminary Approval To Bill Banning Montana Courts From Enforcing Foreign Laws

Mar 20, 2017

An opponent to SB 97 stands with a hand lettered sign that says "No SB 97" in the House Gallery during the floor debate. A member of the House Sergeant At Arms staff asked this protester, and others, to take their signs outside because it was a violation of decorum.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

The Montana House, on a 56-44 vote, gave preliminary approval to a bill that would ban the application of foreign laws in state courts. Proponents and opponents have dubbed Senate Bill 97 the Sharia law measure. Opponents said it targets Muslims.


“I assure you that if you go back and listen to the testimony of the proponents for this bill in both the House and Senate the legislative intent is crystal clear that it targets one religion,” said Representative Ellie Hill Smith, D-Missoula.

She said every proponent of SB 97 called it Sharia law, a reference to being the law of Islam even though language in the bill does not specifically mention Sharia law.

But Hill Smith said the intent of this bill came through loud and clear during hearings before the respective judiciary committees.  The attorney from Missoula sits on the House panel.

“While I believe with all my heart it is not the intent of the sponsor the testimony was peppered with anti-Muslim bigotry. It was,” she said.

“Efforts to single out certain groups are xenophobic. They advance an ugly idea that anything Islamic is un-American and this is unjust and discriminatory and it should be rejected by this body,” Hill Smith said.

Rep. Ellie Hill Smith's unsuccessful amendment to SB 97

She was unsuccessful in her attempt to amend the bill to include the Law of Moses. She said the courts have already struck down similar laws in other states. Hill Smith said approving her amendment would show the courts this bill’s intent wasn’t to target one religion.

“As far as being, the term Xenophobic. That's an insult,” said Representative Brad Tschida, R-Missoula. He carried Senate Bill 97 in the House.

“I’m not intolerant,” he said. “This is not anti-Muslim.”

Tschida said this bill does not prevent someone from practicing any religion, nor is it a document of fear.

“This is not about Sharia law. This is about MT Constitution and about the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

The Montana Human Rights Network and the ACLU put out notices to their members to come to the Capitol for the floor debate and wear grey in a show of solidarity. Those who came with signs were told to leave them outside the House gallery.

Senate Bill 97 faces a third and final vote. If it passes it goes to the governor for consideration.