Ketron defends Shariah bill

Friday, March 11, 2011

State Sen. Bill Ketron is drafting legislation to address implementation of Shariah law, part of the Muslim faith, that's perceived by some as a handmaiden to terrorist cells in America.

"We're still working on the bill," the Murfreesboro Republican said Wednesday, explaining legal issues are being vetted "to make sure it's constitutional" before it's sent to House and Senate Judiciary committees.

Ketron's bill "mirrors federal law," he said, referring to the Patriot Act, "to give our local and state law enforcement agencies more tools to act against those extremists who have declared jihads."

It's an attempt to restrict creation, operation and support of terrorist groups.

"It in no way restricts their freedom of religion or their way of worship," said Ketron who represents Marshall County.

It has attracted "global" attention, he said. Al Jazeera, the Arabic news network headquartered in Doha, Qatar, sent a news crew Wednesday to the Senate, but Ketron didn't speak with that agency's reporter.

"I don't have any constituents in the Middle East," he said.

Shariah addresses topics in secular law such as crime, politics, economics and personal matters like hygiene, diet, prayer, fasting and sexuality. Islamic judges apply Shariah. There are various interpretations of Shariah.

Last year, Ketron passed a bill prohibiting use of Shariah as a defense - under American's 1st Amendment right of freedom of religion - when someone's charged with a crime that is sanctioned under Shariah.

This year, Ketron's proposes a "material support bill... (that) separates the religion of Islam and the worship of Islam from an extremist's standpoint to the point of declaring jihad," he said. "It works with local and state law enforcement officials in conjunction with the state attorney general to identify two or more extremists working or creating a Shariah organization.

"Figuratively, it creates a ring of fire around the Shariah organization to prohibit any form of material support pouring into that organization," Ketron said. "Material support is defined as money from international sources through banking transactions and it would prohibit property transfers to the organization, munitions, explosives, chemicals and the like. It invokes our felony statutes against those in the organization or anyone who supports the Shariah organization."

Ketron's bill has attracted opposition and support since it was reported in a Nashville newspaper.

"The first week, when the story broke, I was getting 6-1 emails against the bill," Ketron said. "Now, it's 20-1 in favor of it."

Ketron sought advice on the bill from Islamic religious leaders: "We reached out to several of Imans ... and asked them to come to the plaza to meet... They said they could not."

State Rep. Judd Matheney (R-Tullahoma) is sponsoring the bill in the House.