Just when you thought the General Assembly was done with “message” bills for this session….
Less than two weeks after a Fort Collins man vandalized the Islamic Center of Fort Collins, a Fort Collins-area lawmaker has introduced a bill that some call anti-Muslim. The measure is scheduled for its first hearing on April 12 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Republican Sen. Vicki Marble, whose district includes a small portion of Fort Collins (not including the Islamic Center), is the sponsor of Senate Bill 17-277, which on its face appears only to require Colorado courts to disregard foreign laws. It’s already being referred to as a “message” bill: intended to rally supporters but with zero chance of passage, especially in the Democratic-controlled House. Most of the “message” bills run by lawmakers – think measures on gun rights, abortion, or sanctuary city – are dealt with in the first half of the 120-day session. But a half-dozen of those kinds of bills showed up in both chambers of the General Assembly this week, with just five weeks left in the session.
Marble told The Colorado Independent Tuesday that she has been interested in the issue dating to her days as a bail agent in the early 2000s. One case stood out for her, she explained: that of a young woman whose husband had taken their daughter back to his home country. Marble said the young woman got no help from the American government in trying to get her daughter, a U.S. citizen, back.
Her intent with the bill is to protect vulnerable women and children, she said, adding that there have been about 50 cases in recent years where American courts have sided with foreign citizens, based on laws from foreign countries.
“Wouldn’t you want to be protected by your American rights?” Marble asked. Everyone in Colorado will be protected by the bill, she added. “This protects the life, liberty and privileges granted under the Constitution of the United States and Colorado. Why shouldn’t we use this to protect our citizens from any laws that don’t meet our standards?”
If approved, the bill would carry the title of the “American Laws for American Courts Act,” which originates from a network of anti-Muslim groups, including several referred to as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its aim, as stated by many of the groups: to block American courts from adhering to Shariah law, the Muslim code of conduct.
You won’t find the word “Shariah” anywhere in the bill. Supporters point out that it’s religiously neutral. But the measure, which has been passed either by legislatures or voters in at least 10 states, is at its heart about ensuring U.S. courts disregard Shariah law, which supporters claim is an issue mostly in American family courts.
The bill is the brainchild of David Yerushalmi, an attorney who is referred to by the Anti-Defamation League as the “driving force” behind the anti-Shariah movement in the United States. Yerushalmi runs the American Freedom Law Center, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Yerushalmi developed the legislation at the request of the anti-Muslim American Public Policy Alliance. Another group on the SPLC hate group list, Act for America, also supports the bill, and has set up a website to call for Coloradans to back the measure, although not specifically referencing Marble’s bill. Among Act for America’s board of advisors: Gen. Michael Flynn, who recently resigned as national security advisor to President Donald Trump.
Marble said she is unaware of the bill’s ties to anti-Muslim groups and said she based the bill on one passed by the Arizona legislature, which also was modeled after Yerushalmi’s bill. She said she’d never heard of Yerushalmi. “I’m not concerned with who wrote it,” she said. “He did a good job.”
Other Fort Collins lawmakers reacted with dismay when they learned about the bill. Democratic Rep. Jeni Arndt was so upset by it that she became nauseous. Arndt, whose district includes the Islamic Center of Fort Collins, was among nearly a thousand people who gathered at the center after the March 26 incident. “Our community stood up and said no” after the vandalism, Arndt said, which showed strong support for the Muslim community and not the “hate message” that she said comes from Marble’s bill. The Islamic Center set up a GoFundMe site to pay for the damages and had to shut it down because they raised so much more than they needed, she said. Democratic Sen. John Kefalas, also of Fort Collins, said the bill “deeply concerns” him.
Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, a civil rights attorney, said he believes that the measure is not only an unconstitutional intrusion into the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches, but he also has concerns about the underlying purpose for the bill. “Who are they really attacking?” he asked.
What also raised eyebrows among lawmakers is one of the measure’s co-sponsors, Sen. John Cooke of Greeley, who has a significant Somali Muslim population in his district and isn’t known for getting involved in “message” bills. But Cooke told The Independent today he was unaware of the measure’s background.
Marble has been accused of being insensitive to minorities before. In 2013, according to KDVR, she delivered “a long soliloquy explaining that more blacks and Hispanics live in poverty, in part, because of fried chicken,” remarks made during a task force meeting on poverty reduction.
“When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race: sickle-cell anemia is something that comes up, diabetes is something that’s prevalent in the genetic makeup and you just can’t help it,” Marble said. “Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never had better BBQ and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down south and you — I love it.” The Denver Post called the remarks “finger-lickin’ stupid.”
Marble was roundly criticized by fellow lawmakers at the meeting and later apologized.
Photo credit: CC violette79 via Creative Commons license, Flickr