Montana Voices: Rosendale disappoints with response to ‘Sharia Steve’ critic

“Sharia Steve,” the caller said, and I hoped for an epiphany.

David Crisp

Matt Rosendale, who hopes to abandon his job as state auditor to become a U.S. senator next year, was being interviewed last week on the “Voices of Montana” radio show. The caller was slandering Gov. Steve Bullock, and I was hoping Rosendale might have a John McCain moment and set the caller straight.

No such luck. Rosendale thanked the caller twice for his comment and never mentioned the slander. With that another spark of hope for a Congress that returns to plain old good manners was extinguished.

It wasn’t hard to figure where the slander came from. Gov. Bullock vetoed a bill in April that would have banned foreign laws in Montana courts. The bill didn’t mention Sharia law, but legislators had neither to wink nor nod to make it clear that’s what they had in mind.

Bullock had good reason to veto: It would have been a stupid law. That’s the genius behind giving governors and presidents the power to veto. They can force legislatures to take a deep breath before one of their jittery stampedes toward judicial activism makes it into the law books.

Why stupid? Because the law would have sent a bad message to other countries with no reciprocating benefits. The Center for Security Policy’s report on “Shariah Law and American State Courts: An Assessment of State Appellate Court Cases,” tries to make an argument that this is “a serious issue and should be a subject of public debate and engagement by policymakers.” But the center struggled to come up with scary-sounding cases.

Nearly without exception, the cases it found crossed jurisdictional lines and even national boundaries. A typical case would involve a child custody dispute between a couple who had separated and one had moved to the United States. Judges could hardly be expected to resolve such disputes without taking into account the laws in both countries, Sharia or otherwise.

Some of the cases involved contractual disputes between parties that agreed in advance to settle disagreements using Sharia law.

“Sharia is relevant in a U.S. court either as a foreign law or as a source of information to understand the expectations of the parties in a dispute,” New Jersey lawyer Abed Awad said in 2011.

New Jersey actually was at the center of the most notorious U.S. case involving Sharia. In 2010, a family law court judge denied a restraining order to a woman who alleged she was sexually abused by her husband. The husband argued that his Islamic religion gave him the right to demand sex from his wife, even if she was in tears.

The ruling was overturned on appeal, with no dissent from religious liberty advocates. Religious liberty may trump the wedding cake but not the wedding bed.

But the lower court ruling was enough to help fuel a nationwide movement to ban Sharia law in state courts. Conduct an online search now, and you are bombed from Snopes to Politifact with stories detailing exaggerations and lies about the impact of Sharia law in America.

Rosendale could have mentioned all of that, but he didn’t bother. I picked up only a few minutes of the broadcast on my way to German class, so I dug it up online later to encounter another religion-and-sex-related discussion.

The topic was Roy Moore, and a caller asked if Rosendale backed the Alabama Republican for the U.S. Senate. Rosendale said he did, despite allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore.

“We have a system in our country that should be honored that says you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Rosendale said.

That’s good news for Bill Clinton, who faces no legal charges for his sexual transgressions. It’s hard to see how it helps Moore, some of whose alleged misconduct may have been illegal but is no longer prosecutable, and much of it was just creepy. Nor does it help President Trump, who laid out the case for his own misconduct as eloquently as any court could.

But it made a nice detour around the facts for Rosendale, who has hitched his campaign, for better or worse, to the Trump buggy. The man may make a politician after all.

Outside of those sex allegations, Rosendale said, “Judge Roy Moore has served honorably.” It was an odd thing to say since Rosendale also has criticized judicial activism. Moore was removed twice from the Alabama Supreme Court for ignoring the orders of superior courts. He is the definition of a judicial activist.

Perhaps consistency is too much to hope for in a politician. I just wish I had a wiser answer to the sexual harassment morass than Rosendale did. But I keep hanging up on this thought: Suppose Thomas Jefferson had been forced to withdraw from public life after allegations surfaced in the second year of his presidency that he had fathered the children of his slave, Sally Hemings.

I mean, the man wasn’t just a powerful public figure and her immediate supervisor, he legally owned her. If anybody had a legal right to demand sex from a woman against her will, he did.

But if he had resigned the presidency and retreated to Monticello, would we better off? Maybe. But I would hate to wager on it.

David Crisp is a longtime Billings journalist and college professor who writes a weekly column for Last Best News.