Arizona seeks to keep karma out of its courts?

Sounds like an Onion story, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. As James Ure of The Buddhist Blog writes today, Arizona has — seriously — proposed an act which would ban the evocation of karma in its court systems. According to Act SB 1026, “A court shall not use, implement, refer to or incorporate a tenet of any body of religious sectarian law into any decision, finding or opinion as controlling or influential authority.”

If you’re wondering where  — or how far — this is going, the answer may be found in how SB 1026 defines “religious sectarian law.” The phrase refers to “any statute, tenet or body of law evolving within and binding a specific religious sect or tribe. Religious sectarian law includes Sharia law, Canon law, Halacha and karma but does not include any law of the United States or the individual states based on Anglo-American legal tradition and principles on which the United States was founded.”

Ure, in his commentary, tries to give backstory and context to explain why some might see this move as outrageous — or at least  unnecessary and paranoid:

One of the targets of this [post 9-11] fear of anything Islamic has come in the form of a wide-spread paranoia of Sharia law….

In brief, Sharia law is law based on the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an (koran). The Islamophobia is so rampant in America these days that states have taken to banning Sharia law in a preemptive move to prevent such law from taking root.  But the politicians of Arizona didn’t stop there. They wanted to make sure ALL non-Christian religious beliefs would have no influence in Arizona state law. This included banning karma, which I didn’t even know was possible considering karma is basically the idea of, “cause and effect” or causality.

Gavel To Gavel reports reports more on the usage of the bill:

2010 however is perhaps the first time a state legislature has tried to stop the use of karma by the courts (although it is not clear any courts are presently using it). Arizona’s HB 2379 and SB 1026 prohibits courts from implementing, referring or incorporating or using “a tenet of any body of religious sectarian law” and specifically includes sharia law, canon law, halacha, and karma. Decisions that make use of a body of religious sectarian law or foreign law are declared void and such usages declared to be grounds for impeachment. Moreover, the bills are not just targetting Arizona’s state courts; the same legislation declares these provisions apply to Federal courts sitting in diversity jurisdiction and requires any court that construes the statutes must do so in a way to confine the power of Congress and the federal judiciary.

Blogger Nathan of Dangerous Harvests shares an opinion in his post from today, “Arizona Attempts to Ban Karma, Sharia Law, and All Forms of Intelligence.”

What do you think?


  1. Peter says

    If one bans Karma, does that mean the world ends? Its a difficult one, and I still cant work it out, after thinking about it for a while now.

    Someone should just go alone to these people and explain to them what Karma is, and that will sort it all out. Because they obviously dont know what it is. This is like banning the Law of Averages! Its just silly! The world would be a better place if it wasnt run by such silly people.

  2. Derold S says

    Arizona is moving backwards. its an odd proposal. I think the law of karma is played out in court everyday.

    (via Facebook)

  3. Brian C says

    I even get sick of its misuse. But, to outlaw it? Why not outlaw the use of bro in common language?

    (via Facebook)

  4. A Buddhist in the rustbelt says

    Sounds like someone in Arizona needs to find more constructive things to do with their time. I'd suggest meditation.

  5. Bronco says

    It has nothing to do with religion, it is based on a scientific finding, named, cause and effect. Now one cannot understand why these fools rely on scientific facts of evidence one minute, then change it yet again when it suits, however, Buddha, described his karma long before the scientists did, and for me. Buddhism, is a science and not a religion…..

  6. Rosalyn Verghese says

    Clearly the court doesn't understand the real concept & meaning of Karma, which really boils down to "action" and "cause and effect". Agreed with Derold – yes, the "law of karma" is played out in life every day…….what a laugh, AZ!

  7. blissgiver says

    This law is not assigning a value to karma, it is simply saying there is no purpose for it in a courtroom. A court, as I am sure you would want it to, has to use the laws it has on its books not some outside concept, as valid as it is for personal enlightenment. So, relax people.

Arizona seeks to ban… karma?

Sounds like an Onion headline, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. As James Ure of The Buddhist Blog writes today, Arizona has — seriously — proposed an act which would — somehow — ban the evocation of karma in its court systems. According to Act SB 1026, “A court shall not use, implement, refer to or incorporate a tenet of any body of religious sectarian law into any decision, finding or opinion as controlling or influential authority.”

If you can’t tell where this is going, the answer to where — or how far — this is going lies in how SB 1026 defines “religious sectarian law.” (more…)


  1. Kevin says

    I posted this on Nathan’s blog too.

    Now, while I do find it completely plausible that this act is an attempt to further conservative Christian ideas, I don’t necessarily agree that the wording of the bill is inherently discriminatory. While I (with my own beliefs) may find it silly to outlaw concepts such as Karma, someone of another faith will feel the same about their own religious beliefs. What this act seems to try to do is level the playing field by banning ALL of it, in following with the supposed separation of church and state in the United States.

    The difficult part is the definition of Religious Sectarian Law in the act. By going with this part “‘RELIGIOUS SECTARIAN LAW’ MEANS ANY STATUTE, TENET OR BODY OF LAW
    EVOLVING WITHIN AND BINDING A SPECIFIC RELIGIOUS SECT OR TRIBE,” every tenet of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc etc etc are all included, because all of their tenets are part of a specific religious sect (especially if you consider each of the many denominations of Christianity as individual sects).

    The possibly more controversial part of the law’s wording is that Religious Sectarian Law, “DOES NOT INCLUDE ANY LAW OF THE UNITED STATES OR THE INDIVIDUAL STATES BASED ON ANGLO-AMERICAN LEGAL TRADITION AND PRINCIPLES ON WHICH THE UNITED STATES WAS FOUNDED.” After reading the entire act numerous times, every exception that is presented in the act is given to say that in using this law (which makes any already-existing law that defies it null and void) you can’t revoke any law that was used to found the United States (Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, etc), AND you can’t revoke any law that we had already borrowed from England when we were putting all of those things into effect. So the use of Anglo-American does not mean “White Christian,” it means “Stuff taken from England and stuff we made in America.”

    Now, whether someone would evoke this law when someone mentions Karma or Enlightenment, but not evoke it when someone mentions, say, turning the other cheek, is a matter of practice – and this is where I think the big possibility (and probability) for bigotry is. But as to anything specifically discriminatory in the Act, I just don’t agree.

  2. Louis says

    @theworsthorse: Your headline is misrepresenting what AZ is trying to do. They are trying to ban **references** to “religious sectarian law.” They are not trying to ban karma per se. That would be an ontological change to the way the world is constituted. Yes, that would be ridiculous but they are not trying to do that.

    Reading the bill, it seems they think that karma is a body of law, like Roman Catholic canon law or the Sharia. They don’t know what they are talking about.

    @Kevin: You’ve been hoodwinked by the language of the bill. This is not at all about the separation of church and state. The exception clause is worded vaguely enough to allow religious concepts to be exempted if they are somehow “principles” upon which the country was founded.

    Now, for additional ruminations…

    I see the following problems which may affect whether the law will be applicable at all:

    1. The legalese is factually wrong (see above: karma is not a body of law).

    2. The legalese is too vague and tries to make distinctions where distinctions cannot be made. (Vague laws are unconstitutional.)

    3. Probably the biggest issue is that it will sooner or later come against freedom of religion. Parties in a lawsuit can refer to whatever they want in their arguments, including religious principles. Doing so may make their argument a poor one, legally speaking, but it would be unconstitutional to tell them they cannot do so merely because they are using religious language. This would be infringing on their freedom of religion. But according to this bill the judge won’t be able to “refer” to the principle mentioned by a party in a suit… even if it is to *reject* it? How is this going to work?

    What about a contract dispute where the contract was designed to respect federal and state laws but also designed in accordance with the principles of a religion shared by the parties who entered in the contract? If the contract explicitly refers to religious principles, what is the judge supposed to do? I do not think the state can make such contracts de facto invalid because it would again infringe on the right of religious freedom.

    Alice hires Bob to provide kosher food for a party but she discovers after the fact that the food was not kosher. What then? Alice is out of luck? This would be a violation of the equal protection clause and of her religious freedom.

    However, Sec 3.3 might save it from complete oblivion by providing that a judge can refer to religious law if he needs to do so in order to protect freedom of religion.

  3. says

    On a long car ride yesterday, my 11 year-old son and I discussed US government. In particular how democracy (operationally defined as “majority wins”) can be dangerous and must be checked. I explained that our Bill of Rights (the 1st 10 amendments to the constitutions) and Federalism are examples of such checks — and there are several others.

    Many folks are naive about government and don’t realize the danger or majority rule. Principles and rules of laws are needed to hold back the majority and panic if possible.

    This law is aiming at that.

    Also, I have seen “karma-logic” justify all sorts of bullshit in Asia (lived there 12 years). I wouldn’t want “karma-logic” used in any court of law either! (though I think the naive writers of the law were just trying to be inclusive in their exclusivity).
    I like Louis’ analysis (if I understood it correctly)

  4. JimWilton says

    The proposed law is foolish and a bad idea.

    Comments above regarding the exception to the law are entirely accurate. Reference to the “principles on which the United States was founded” is code for permitting references to Biblical laws such as the Ten Commandments. So the law is not even handed in application to different religions.

    In addition, concern expressed above about disturbing contract rights is entirely justified. Loan documents are commonly drafted under U.S. law (generally New York law) for use by Middle Eastern lenders so that they are “Sharia compliant”. Typically, this means that no interest as such is charged to avoid usury issues under Sharia law. The lender’s profit is documented in other ways that are not offensive to Sharia law.

    The Arizona law would arguably render these loan documents unenforceable in Arizona courts — whether or not the Arizona courts were applying foreign law (such as the law of New York). The effect of a law like this on reciprocity in enforcement of Arizona laws in other states is also uncertain — abrogating principles of comity in respecting laws of other U.S. states (such as the law of New York — which would likely enforce Sharia compliant contracts) could have an adverse effect on enforcement of Arizona law in other U.S. states.

    In short, this bill is a bad idea and should not become law.

  5. Alex says

    It’s not about Buddhism, it’s not about Islam, and it’s not about Zoroastrianism – liberal bloggers like to grab ahold of these things because of the absurdity of the right’s paranoia about Sharia entering our court system; while the right base is certainly afraid of this kind of thing, I assure you that the legislators who draft this stuff have no such concerns. It’s about International Law and the threat that international law represents for certain U.S. commercial/political interests. Doing away with international law is about doing away with the President’s ability to enact legislation through treaties and about retaining the right to fail to honor trade agreements. If we continue to act as though this is just more wing-nuttery, we fail to understand what’s actually going on.

  6. Alex says

    In other words, they’re pulling the wool over our eyes, and by treating them as wingnuts, we’re helping them pull the wool over our eyes.