ATLANTA — Legislation that has drawn vocal opposition from religious and business groups moved toward a vote by the full House of Representatives after a committee voted along party lines to approve it Thursday.
The measure, House Bill 242, aims to ensure that Georgia judges don’t defer to Sharia law in settling divorce and child-custody cases. Sharia is the code of justice used in many Muslim countries that is based on Islamic principles determined by clerics rather than secular judges or elected officials.
The bill had been the subject of four hearings before Thursday’s approval by the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. Its author, Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, offered wording changes in the latest version that he said addressed the concerns of most critics.
Catholic officials had worried it might prevent the Roman Catholic Church based in Italy from owning parish buildings and schools. Businesses with international dealings also feared it could interfere with their trade relationships.
Coomer noted that similar bills had either recently passed or were pending in South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee.
“This is not suddenly putting Georgia on some track different from the other states,” he said.
But House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams of Atlanta said it would create havoc for Georgians who hold a duel Israeli citizenship because law in that country is based on Jewish doctrine and would run afoul of the bill’s prohibition against religiously oriented law. It might also make foreign judges reluctant to enforce a Georgia custody order when one parent has fled to another country with a child, she said.
“There has been no demonstrated evidence that this is needed,” she said. “... As someone who believes in a very conservative view of the law, I’m very loath to expand it if existing law is sufficient.”
Coomer said there was no predicting what a foreign judge would do and that they already ignore Georgia custody orders.
“I don’t think we can cure every situation,” he said.
Abrams’ attempts to water down the bill with amendments failed, and the committee voted to recommend the House pass it. If the House does, then it would still have to go to the Senate for approval and to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.