Earlier in the legislative session, Rep. Mike Schatz (R-New England), a former social studies teacher, proposed legislation to broaden the knowledge and understanding of high school students by requiring the teaching of some of the nation's basic documents.
While his bill was defeated, it stimulated a discussion on the need for better understanding of America's policy-making institutions.
The Legislature demonstrated the need for that understanding two weeks later when it discussed House Bill 1425 prohibiting the application of Sharia law in North Dakota. Sponsors of the proposal feared that Sharia law would sneak into our society, primarily through the state's judges.
The measure passed the House by a vote of 62 to 30 but was defeated in the Senate by 15 to 29.
Sharia law embodies the religious doctrine for the followers of Islam and includes an array of brutal punishments for those caught in disobedience.
While Sharia has no standing in the American constitutional system, the fear of Islam has been fanned over the past several years by blogs and social media specializing in unfounded rumors and scare tactics.
The Constitution stands foursquare against any possibility of implementing Sharia law in the United States.
For example, Sharia law calls for the amputation of hands for theft; the U. S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
Criticizing Mohammed is punishable by death; the Constitution not only guarantees free speech but also declares that no one can be deprived of life without due process of law.
Sharia law permits men to marry a girl as young as nine years old; every state in the Union has laws against child marriages.
If followers of Islam in the United States want to submit themselves to Sharia law, they can do so but only to the extent that the U. S. Constitution and the laws of the land permit. There will be no cutting off of hands, or death penalties, or any other punishment outside of the American justice system.
Let's assume that a band of orthodox Jews disembark in New York, wearing black hats, frayed tzitzits and princely suits, hugging their copies of the sacred Torah. They look different so we are suspicious.
A fearmonger would soon discover that in this Torah are some frightening provisions that run counter to the American criminal justice system in the same manner as is found in Sharia law.
In the Torah (Deuteronomy and Leviticus), they would find advocacy of stoning, beheading, strangulation and burning as penalties for disobedient children, kidnapping, Sabbath-breaking, incest, lying and a score of other crimes.
You can bet that there will be no stoning of disobedient children under the Torah or Sharia in the United States. Even parental discipline is limited by laws.
We have had people of the Jewish faith in America for generations and have seen no attempt to implement Torah punishment for themselves or the rest of society. The believers in Islam will be following the same course.
With the Constitution firmly entrenched between us and the invocation of Sharia law, it is strange that this fear could muster a substantial majority in the North Dakota House of Representatives and a respectable number in the Senate. It is obvious that in some cases we lack the kind of understanding that we want our high schoolers to get by going back to our founding documents.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Kelly Armstrong (R-Dickinson) summarized the argument against the measure best: "The U. S. Constitution may be the most perfect document in the history of the world and it does not need further protection."
Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and former political science professor at UND.