Florida House passes bill aimed at cracking down on Sharia law in courts

By | 03.01.12 | 2:16 pm

State Sen. Alan Hayes, R-Umatilla (Pic by Senator Hays, via flsenate.gov)

A measure aimed at restricting the “application of foreign law,” specifically Sharia law, in courts in Florida passed the state House today in a 92-24 vote.

The measure is aimed at outlawing “foreign law” in family court cases, despite no real evidence that such a problem exists. The measure, and past incarnations of it, have been touted by right-wing activists as an attempt to “stop the spread of Sharia in Florida.”

Sharia law, the moral code and religious law of the Muslim faith, has been the subject of right-wing hysteria in Florida for years.

Members of the House opposed to the bill, as well as civil rights groups, have called it unnecessary and said it would restrict religious freedoms. The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)  has denounced the bill, claiming it is an attempt by the Legislature to “demonize Islam and marginalize Muslims.”

In January, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement arguing that there “simply is no documentation of unconstitutional application of foreign law in our judicial system.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida also dismissed claims that foreign law is “somehow infecting the legal system” in Florida and has called the proposed measure “a law with unintended consequences.”

Sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis, and its proponents have claimed it is not an attempt to restrict religious freedom, but instead a way to provide “clarity to judges.”

Critics maintain that proponents have been unable to prove that a problem regarding the use of Sharia law in Florida courts exists. During the debate before the bill’s passage, state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said the measure is “wholly unnecessary” and was ”a solution searching for a problem.” He told members that “our state and federal constitutions” already prohibit application of foreign law in courts.

State Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said he was opposing the bill in defense of Muslims.

“We have got to stop going after groups,” he told members. ”I stand as a Jew standing up for the Muslims, who this body appears to be going after.”

Florida has been a hotbed of anti-Islam/Sharia activism for years. Though a similar bill was introduced last session (by the same lawmakers behind this year’s version), this marks the first legislative attempt at specifically cracking down on Sharia law.

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