Randall Marshall, legal director of the Florida ACLU and a former assistant attorney general, tells The Florida Independent that the state’s “anti-Shariah” bill, sponsored by state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and state Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis, would impact all religious and foreign laws, and is entirely unworkable.
Marshall says there are substantial numbers of international law the U.S. is party to: They govern family relationships, child abduction, adoption and consular relations. One concrete example he cites is the marriage of a couple in a foreign country.
The validity of the marriage does not depend upon the presence of an American consular officer, and so U.S. courts are required to look to the law of the country in which somebody was married to determine if they are properly married.
Many Floridians get married abroad and settle here. If there is a divorce or a child custody dispute, for example, the issue must be resolved by Florida courts. Marshall tells the Independent that Hays’ and Metz’s bills would prohibit the courts from looking to the appropriate law to make its decision.
The Independent recently reported that conservative commentators who support these “anti-Shariah” bills claim that a Florida judge has subjected one of the parties involved in a civil law suit against the Islamic Education Center of Tampa to Sharia, Islamic law. But legal experts say the judge’s ruling is hardly uncommon, and that laws of all faiths and nationalities are regularly discussed in American courts.
Marshall agrees that the Tampa case is basically an issue of contract law.
“The court determined there was an agreement amongst the parties to have their dispute resolved through non-judicial means,” he says. “That happens all the time. People agree on arbitration through alternative dispute mechanisms. It happens with Jewish courts, Presbyterians, Episcopalians — there are a number of cases.”
“And as I understand, the court’s order is that apparently the court found there was an agreement to have it resolved in another forum,” Marshall says, “and therefore the judge was ordering the parties to adhere to that agreement and if it comes back to him it is to determine if they had followed the procedure they had agreed upon. That is fairly common practice.”
Religious organizations aren’t the only groups who should be concerned about the pending legislation, according to Marshall.
“I think in particular the business community would be quite concerned,” he says, “because of the implications of this bill for arbitration agreements, especially in Miami and other parts of Florida where there is a huge international legal business and disputes are resolved all the time through the use of particular law of any country the parties agree on.”