The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog both are covering a 2003 Texas appellate decision that “referred a divorce case to a local tribunal called the Texas Islamic Court.” ((That’s the New York Times‘s description. The Law Blog repeated that description, inserting the caveat “reportedly referred.”))
The Texas case is Jabri v. Qaddura, from the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. It is an arbitration case, not a pure family-law case. One party sued to enforce an arbitration clause; the district court refused; and the court of appeals ordered compliance. The text of the opinion is available here.
Adam Liptak’s New York Times article, titled “When God and the Law Don’t Square”, places the Texas case against the backdrop of a larger debate — extending to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent comments about accommodation of islamic law. And the article quotes critics who believe that courts should be leery of enforcing such agreements if they leave women worse off than would civll law.
The article then uses the Texas case to provide its twist:
In the Texas case, however, it was a woman, Rola Qaddura, who sought arbitration in a dispute over a dowry and the distribution of assets after a divorce. The parties had signed an agreement to arbitrate their case â€œaccording to the Islamic rules of law by Texas Islamic Courtâ€ in Richardson.
The appeals court said the agreement was valid. Ms. Schattman, who represented Ms. Qaddura, said the appeals courtâ€™s ruling was proper and unexceptional. â€œAn agreement to arbitrate is an agreement to arbitrate,â€ she said.
In the end, though, the parties could not agree on a panel of arbitrators and the effort collapsed, Ms. Schattman added, saying of the Islamic court: â€œIt was kind of a new thing.â€
This same Texas case was featured in a post on the Volokh Conspiracy earlier this month titled “Sharia law enforced in Texas!” That post generated some interesting academic commentary about freedom of contract and whether it should be bounded in this area.
The WSJ Law Blog piece is titled “When the Law of Religion Meets the Law of the State” and also has a lively commentary stream, albeit with a fixation on how the Archbishop came to acquire the title “the Most Reverend.”