Interfaith Leaders Letter to Legislators
For 235 years, Americans of all faiths, creeds, colors, and ethnic origins have enjoyed a system of liberties and laws protected by a Constitution that is unique to the world. The criminal and civil statutes that have emanated from this foundational document serve as the bedrock for American values. We are a nation of laws, presided over by an impartial judiciary and preserved by a Congress and state legislatures.
It is largely due to our constitutional principles that America has stood at the forefront of the nations of the world in terms of religious freedom and tolerance. Protecting our constitutional rights is our best defense of religious freedom and the right to worship as we please.
We therefore urge Americans of all faiths to join us in supporting passage of the American Laws for American Courts Act, which has been enacted in three states and is being introduced in many other legislatures.
The Act‘s sole objective is to protect all U.S. citizens and residents from the application of foreign laws when the application of a foreign law will result in the violation, in the specific matter at issue, of a liberty guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States or the public policies of the state in question. Such violations would include but not be limited to infringements on due process, freedom of religion, speech, or press, equal protection, and any right of privacy or marriage as specifically defined by the constitution of the state.
Unfortunately, because state legislatures have generally not been explicit about what their public policy is relative to foreign laws, often the parties litigating in those state courts are left to their own devices to understand that granting comity to a foreign judgment may be at odds with our state and federal constitutional principles in the specific matters at issue.
The American Laws for American Courts Act is constitutional and “facially neutral.” It does not mention any specific religion, creed or legal doctrine, and in the two years since its introduction into state legislatures, it has never been challenged in court.
The Act is carefully defined so as not to interfere with the right of any individual or entity to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by the constitution of the states. For example, it would not affect the decisions of Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other ecclesiastical courts, or their enforcement, as long as those decisions did not result in the violation of a right guaranteed by the state constitution or the Constitution of the United States.
American Laws for American Courts would not interfere with Jewish law because Jewish law has an inherent provision that instructs people of the Jewish faith to follow the law of the land in which they live. Moreover, ALAC only applies when the use of a foreign legal doctrine in a court would violate someone’s constitutional rights or state public policy. This is not the case with Jewish law. Nor would ALAC impact canon law.
Moreover, the model American Laws for American Courts language contains specific language in recognition of the fact that it cannot be applied in such a way that would interfere with a church, religious corporation, association, or society, with respect to the individuals of a particular religion regarding matters that are purely ecclesiastical, to include, but not be limited to, matters of calling a pastor, excluding members from a church, electing church officers, matters concerning church bylaws, constitution, and doctrinal regulations and the conduct of other routine church business, where 1) the jurisdiction of the church would be final; and 2) the jurisdiction of the courts of this State would be contrary to the First Amendment of the United States and the Constitution of this State.
Nothing in the Act prevents any person from freely exercising his or her right to freedom of religion and worship. American Laws for American Courts only applies to legal doctrines in our court systems. It does not discriminate in any way based on faith of any kind.
The goal of the American Laws for American Courts Act is a clear and unequivocal application of what should be the goal of all state courts: No U.S. citizen or resident should be denied the liberties, rights, and privileges guaranteed in our constitutional republic. American Laws for American Courts is needed especially to protect women and children, identified by international human rights organizations as the primary victims of discriminatory foreign laws.
The United States has long been and continues to be a model of diversity and tolerance to the rest of the world. However, the demands of an increasingly multi-cultural society must never impede nor impair basic constitutional liberties such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to privacy and due process. Please join our fellow Americans from across the country who are working towards the prompt passage of American Laws for American Courts , the 21st century civil rights initiative to ensure constitutional protections for all Americans.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero
President Caucus for America
Rabbi Jonathan Hausman, J.D.
Congregation Ahavath Torah
Bishop David C. Anderson
President and CEO, American Anglican Council
Reverend Canon J. Philip Ashey, Esq.
Chief Operating and Development Officer, American Anglican Council
Official legal and canonical adviser to churches
Member of the Governance Task Force which drafted the Constitution and Canons of the new Anglican Church in North America
Reverend Charles A.”Drew” Collins, Jr., S.B.R.
Vicar of St. Thomas Church
Moncks Corner, South Carolina
Reverend David Jones
Rector, Saint Paul’s Church
The Very Reverend Dr. Keith Roderick, D.D.
Secretary General of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights
Representative, Christian Solidarity International
Executive Director of the Sudan Campaign
Rector, St. Andrew’s Episcopal (Anglican) Church, Carbondale, IL
Father Richard Kim, Retired
Retired Episcopal priest
Former Green Beret
Grosse Point, MI