JUNEAU — Palmer Republican Rep. Carl Gatto has set off a political firestorm with a bill aimed at stopping what he deems as the potential of Islamic religious law — Sharia — trumping the U.S. Constitution in Alaska courts.
Gatto said he has strong support of Mat-Su area tea party groups and has received nearly 500 emails and phone calls from places like New Zealand, Poland and Israel in support of his bill. It's part of a push nationally by conservative state legislators, with similar measures introduced in more than a dozen states.
A Muslim group in Anchorage says Gatto is spreading an anti-Islam message and the Alaska Civil Liberties Union argues the bill could have unintended legal consequences. The Alaska Department of Law, meanwhile, testified it's hard to see the bill having any real effect as U.S. law already reigns supreme in Alaska's courts.
Gatto said he grew up in New York City, where his Italian neighborhood clung to technically illegal customs like giving a child whiskey to help with illness. But the world of other immigrants is different, he argued.
"I'm more concerned about cultures that are vastly different from European immigrants, who come here and prefer to maintain their specific laws from their previous countries, which are in violent conflict with American law," Gatto said. "That's the issue that I am worried about."
Gatto's proposal, House Bill 88, says Alaska courts can't apply foreign law if it would violate an individual's rights guaranteed by the Constitutions of the United States or the state of Alaska. Gatto doesn't have examples of Alaska courts imposing Islamic Sharia law but said his bill is determined to make sure that it doesn't happen.
A member of the Islamic Community Center of Alaska sent an email addressed to Gatto saying 4,000 to 6,000 Muslims live peacefully in Alaska and asking him to "please do not ignite hate and misunderstanding." Another Muslim from Anchorage, Lamin Jobarteh, said Muslims follow U.S. law. There is no Sharia law in Alaska, he said.
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