‘Foreign law’ bill sparks Sharia debate in Florida House

Posted on: January 31st, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

Florida’s anti-Sharia activism made its way into the Florida Legislature Tuesday, as a bill that would regulate the “application of foreign law in certain cases” passed through a House justice committee.

In short, the bill is aimed at making sure Sharia and other foreign laws are not applied to family law cases in the state of Florida. A similar bill was introduced last year by the same lawmakers behind this year’s version: state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis. As The Florida Independent’s Marcos Restrepo reported last March, the bill was touted by right-wing activists as an attempt to “stop the spread of Sharia in Florida.”

Though there was little debate over the bill this morning, state Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach, did ask whether the bill is intended to go “after the bogeyman of Sharia law.”

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement this week calling the “anti-Sharia bill a proverbial solution in search of a problem.” David Barkey, the League’s religious freedom counsel, said in a statement yesterday that

there simply is no documentation of unconstitutional application of foreign law in our judicial system. Florida courts are already prohibited from applying or considering religious law in any way that would constitute government entanglement with religion due to the separation of church and state embodied in the Florida and federal constitutions. This bill goes well beyond these constitutional prohibitions. Therefore, not only is it unnecessary, it would be harmful to all Floridians’ religious freedom.

It is true that Islamic law is being used elsewhere around the world in ways we would find objectionable, but the notion that Sharia law is creeping into America’s court system is absolutely unfounded.

The League also warned that the bill is connected to anti-Islam extremist David Yerushalmi.

According to a letter the group sent to the committee members:

[T]he author of the proposed legislation, David Yerushalmi, is involved with several anti-Muslim campaigns and groups. … Mr.Yerushalmi is also the founder and president of the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), a “think tank” that has published anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and anti-black materials, as well as New World Order-style conspiracy theories. …

HB 1209 is a narrower version of House Bill 1273 (“HB 1273”), which was introduced during the 2011 legislative session. Notwithstanding its more limited scope, however, HB 1209 continues to be a proverbial solution in search of a problem. For example, HB 1209 would likely prohibit an observant Jewish couple from using a Jewish Bet Din tribunal to legally dissolve their marriage. And there are Christian religious panels that function in a similar manner. The bill may also bar individuals from using these panels to legally resolve issues.

Metz, the House sponsor of the bill, maintained, however, that going after Sharia was “not the basis of this law.” He said the measure was “not specifically targeted toward one specific law.”

An individual who testified in support of the bill did say that the impetus for the bill was a court case in Hillsborough County in which Sharia was used, a case that spurred quite a bit of right-wing activism. The case was eventually dismissed last December.

State Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Southwest Ranches, questioned whether the encroachment of foreign law is really an issue in Florida, and said he had not ”heard of foreign laws being interjected” in Florida courts.

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