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Florida’s Latest Stab at Sharia Law Fails, Barely, But May Not Be the Last

| March 14, 2012

Islamophobia in red white and blue. (Aslan Media)

As Florida’s legislative session for 2012 rushed to a close in a blizzard of unfinished business, a bill to ban Islamic or Sharia law’s application in state courts was among those nearing a vote. The measure, called Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases, was already approved by the House, 92-24, and seems fast-tracked in the Senate. Gov. Rick Scott was expected to sign it—if it passed.

It didn’t. After easily clearing two Senate committees (one on a unanimous vote, another on a 5-2 vote), the measure never came up for a vote on the full Senate floor. But it’s unlikely to be the last attempt at passing a so-called anti-Sharia law in Florida. “This sends a strong message that we will not tolerate legislation intended to demonize, attack, and marginalize religious minorities in America,” Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the evening the bill failed. “Our victory tonight is a great example of how the interfaith and civil rights community united can make a positive difference for all Americans.”

Meant to oppose a supposed threat to America’s judicial system — and by extension, America’s very way of life — the bill was one of about 20 similar ones working their ways through state legislatures across the country. The bills are based, almost word for word, on a model written by anti-Islamic activist David Yerushalmi, a native of South Florida now living and working in Brooklyn Heights.

Yerushalmi, along with the better-known conservative activists Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes, is in the forefront of a nationwide crusade promoting “a deeply mistaken portrayal of Islam … as an inherently violent ideology that seeks domination over the United States and all non-Muslims,”  as described by the liberal Center for American Progress. Yerushalmi’s racist views were reported by The New York Times last July. In a 2006 essay, Yerushalmi wrote that “most of the fundamental differences between the races are genetic,” and asked why “people find it so difficult to confront the facts that some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem-solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones?” the Times reported. “He has also railed against what he sees as a politically correct culture that avoids open discussion of why ‘the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote.'”

The bill may have triggered an ironic side-effect: It could have prevent Orthodox Jewish groups from using religious courts to arbitrate their divorces.

The Jewish Daily Forward, a newspaper published in New York, writes:

The bill’s supporters acknowledge that their proposal is aimed at Muslims. But David Barkey, an Anti-Defamation League attorney specializing in church-state issues, said that the bill will affect Jews. Because only a man can grant his wife a Jewish divorce, or get, Barkey said, a beit din —singlular for batei din — may be seen as violating state and federal equal protection principles, which bar discrimination based on gender.

“Any arbitration or ruling based on such a law is, per se, invalid,” Barkey said.

But Yerushalmi said that courts would not apply the bill to arbitration rulings by batei din because these bodies do nothing to violate constitutional principles.

More than 2,000 Orthodox families live in Florida, according to Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella group.

Yerushalmi is himself an Orthodox Jew.

Shariah is the moral code and religious law of Islam. Organizations such as Gaffney’s “Center for Security Policy” and political candidates such as Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann have repeatedly hammered the notion that gullible or spineless American judges are bowing to Islamic court rulings as part of an insidious attempt by radical Muslims to take over our institutions.

But where’s the evidence to support these fevered imaginings? Last year, Gaffney’s group published a 635-page study designed to prove that Shariah’s impact on American court cases is widespread. It listed “50 significant cases” in which “Shariah law has entered into state court decisions, in conflict with the Constitution and state public policy.”

Yet in what the study called the “top 20″ of those cases, 18 concerned foreign-born people. Fourteen dealt with divorces or child custody disputes. In eight of the 20 cases, appellate courts overturned lower courts that had cited religious-court rulings in their findings. In four more cases, the courts flat-out refused to apply Islamic law. Only six of the top 20 cases showed U.S. courts clearly backing an Islamic court’s ruling.

One “top” case turned out to be that of a U.S. court which allowed Saudi-based branches of Mobil and Exxon to sue a Saudi company under Saudi law — a law that happens to be based on Shariah.

In other words, we’re dealing with, at best, a handful of dubious court decisions. You might even call them bad decisions. But that’s not a crisis. That’s the legal system. What courtroom is ever free of the occasional bad decision?

Almost all the cases involve Muslim people who have moved here from Muslim nations, and who are trying to reconcile their customs, agreements and laws with American customs, traditions and laws. None of them suggests an effort to impose their religious precepts on anyone else.

“For all its fervor,” the Times reported, “the movement is arguably directed at a problem more imagined than real. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims are not coalescing en masse to advance Islamic law. Instead, they say, Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen in Europe, where multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is an overaccommodation of Islamic law.”

This anti-Shariah movement has all the earmarks of a manufactured crisis.

The Florida bill did have opponents. As the Miami Herald wrote, invoking an old jokes, “an imam, a rabbi and a pastor walked into Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ office Wednesday with two demands: Withdraw the foreign law bill they say targets Muslims, and investigate who is behind anti-Muslim booklets and flyers circulating the Senate.”

The clerics only got as far as meeting with an aide. Haridopolos was not available. Last week, he said he favors the bill because he thinks it supports the U.S. Constitution.

–Howard Goodman, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, and FlaglerLive

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36 Responses for “Florida’s Latest Stab at Sharia Law Fails, Barely, But May Not Be the Last”

  1. ASPCJ says:

    Are they kidding me? WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

    What happened to the U.S. Consitution? I am a quinquagenarian whose has traveled half this wonderous globe of ours. Whenever I visited, lived or worked for extended periods of time in other countries, I was subject to the Laws of their land, not ours. All foreign Embassies be damned.

    Church matters are distinctly separated from State matters and nary the two shall mix. It’s been that way for thousands of years. This is the United States of America. We have our own laws, like it or leave it. If I wanted to live under another judicial system, I would move to a country with laws that appealed to me, and supported my religious beliefs and family values..

    If this country is so terribly bad, then why do plethoras of foreign citizens keep arriving on our shores daily to take up a way of life here? They want the rights of our citizenship without having to obide by our established laws and constitution.

    These little underminings are how we will lose our country. We must remain ever watchful and vigilant.

    • Keepinformed says:

      I agree with you ASPCJ,
      Here’s a little research I discovered…

      What is sharia law?

      12:01AM GMT 19 Feb 2006

      Sharia law is “the path that must be followed by a Muslim”.

      It brings together elements from the Koran and the Hadith (a collection of the deeds and words of Mohammed), plus judges’ rulings from Islam’s first centuries. It was fixed by about the 10th century, and contains detailed instructions for practically every aspect of life.

      In the West, it is most famous for its penal code: the prescribed punishments for sexual offences, which include stoning; for theft, which include amputation; and for apostasy, for which the punishment is death.

      Much more important for most Muslims, however, are the parts of sharia that relate to the status of women, to contracts and to family law.

      These include provisions that allow men several wives and that enshrine, in law, the inferiority of women.

      Related Articles

      Muslims want sharia law in UK
      19 Feb 2006

      Women can be divorced merely by their husbands reciting “I divorce you” three times; their testimony is worth less than that of men; and they cannot marry a non-Muslim man – although it is permissible for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman.

      It is parts of sharia such as these that come into immediate conflict with Britain’s secular law, which is committed to treating all citizens equally. But it is those provisions which Muslim clerics most want to cordon off from any secular influence.

    • JO says:

      I think if you want to talk about the US constitution.. the reference should be Ron Paul.. he is a well known strict constitutionalist.. so, I am more interested in his opinion about Sharia Law role in the US constitution.
      thanks for your opinion though.


    • Val Jaffee says:

      The Native Americans would definitely agree with you. They found that out in the most harshest and cruelist ways. They have become like the thumbleweeds blowing in the winds, no roots and nowhere to call home as they CONTINUE to lose what little have been allocated to them. That’s something Americans should be very proud of. Yup!

  2. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    @Fred: One word……NONE!

  3. I’d rather not have either one they should’ve passed it.

  4. Anita says:

    It appears that by keeping the focus on the imaginary imposition of Sharia law in our courts, we fail to see those who would slip Orthodox Hebraic law past the guardians of the gate. Just another example of why we must have separation of church and state, Rick Santorum’s weak stomach notwithstanding.

  5. Kendall Clark-StJacques via Facebook says:

    God Bless you Fred Peterson!! I agree completely. Xenophobia is alive and well in our great Republican state!!

  6. "My Daily Rant" says:

    There is no place in America for sharia law,These middle eastern people must understand we dont want their laws or their way of life.Look at their countries these Muslim countries full of hate ,anger,just last week they stoned 14 chlidren because of the way they dressed.If Muslim people want to live under sharia law they should just stay in their own country, we dont want them over here.To all you Liberals who will say Im a raceist if you like their way of life go live over there with them, I hear they treat women good.
    VOTE OUT OBAMA Lets make our country great again

    • Jennifer S. says:

      “these Muslim countries full of hate, anger, just last week they stoned 14 children because of the way they dressed”… how many senseless acts of violence take place in this Country? within the past few weeks there have been multiple deadly shootings at schools, courts, and even in our own neighborhood. I have already read about 3 deadly shootings between Flagler & Jacksonville this morning. A racist is someone who believes their own race is somehow far superior to that of other/ different races. The statement of Muslim people being full of hate & anger & should stay in their own country implies a superiority complex. Making blanket statements like this shows a fundamental lack of understanding & is most certainly the greatest contributing factor to the fragmentation of our Country. .

      • Anonymous says:

        @jennifer the ” senseless acts of violence take place in this Country? ” you equate to the killing of ones who disobay islam under islamic law does not hold water. Your examples are not of our governments laws doing

        • Jennifer S. says:

          So the slaughtering of innocent people is not born of hate & anger & is acceptable so long as it is not a direct (supposedly) result of government? … furthermore, if you look at the story of the shooting near Jacksonville to which I am referring it was a “suicide-by-cop” case. In other words our laws, our government has stipulated when faced with qualifying threats, police & citizens have the right to use deadly force… which I am by NO means saying is an unwarranted disposition, necessarily…What I am trying to understand is where all of the self-righteousness & superiority comes into play. Making flagrant statements & condemning various groups of people, reducing different cultures, suggesting there are an “us” & “other” undermines humans in general. it makes no sense to me.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      MDR, don’t get so wound up. We just killed 16 of their kids in Afganistan by just one psyco off duty, so we’re still up by two in this inning alone. Lotta’ game to go there, boy! Just keep cheering! USA, USA, USA!!!

  7. Nancy N. says:

    What you are missing ASPCJ is that in today’s world it is increasingly easy for a legal matter to cross international borders. People cross borders, taking actions on both sides of those borders that relate to a matter. Companies conduct business across borders. The internet allows us to reach around the world with our actions in a single instant. Yes, in actions that take place solely within our borders by our citizens…US law applies. But sometimes it is not that simple and there are issues of jurisdiction and other matters involving another country’s laws that have to be figured out.

    • Michael McPherson says:

      Nancy, what YOU are missing is that if I go to Saudi and carry with me a bible, by their law I can be put to death. If I go to Thailand and disrespect the King I can be LASHED. If I go to Japan and break the speed limit by 30 KPH I can get fined ¥30,000 . I do NOT get to use US law in any of these countries. Why would someone working in the USA expect or even worse DEMAND any different?

      • Nancy N. says:

        Michael I didn’t say that foreign law should be APPLIED here. But these anti-sharia laws are written in such a way that courts are required to pretend that anything to do with foreign laws or courts (such as custody decisions, etc) basically doesn’t exist and can’t even be mentioned in a US court. What I was trying to say is that when court matters involve people and events – including court rulings, for instance – that took place in other countries, our courts need to be allowed to hear about those and consider them as part of the entire fabric and history of a case. Look at the list of cases that the group promoting anti-Sharia laws are listing as egregious offenses of foreign law intruding into US courts. The sort of thing where this comes up – it’s largely things like US courts deciding to agree with a foreign court that already ruled that a foreign court has jurisdiction over a matter under US law, or considering the outcome of an overseas custody dispute in a US ruling relating to a child. It’s possible to hear about and consider things that have happened in legal proceedings overseas as part of a decision making process without actually applying those laws here. It’s just recognizing that we as Americans don’t live in a vacuum on this planet.

  8. John says:

    Amen to that brother ! REMAIN WATCHFUL and VIGILANT .

  9. Yellowstone says:

    This is a government by, for, and of the people. If, it were to happen, the majority vote in favor of rescinding laws – the majority rules.

    There are number religious sects in the US that follow their own laws contrary to the conventions established in our current laws; ie, polygamy within the Mormon faith.

    Let’s get these nutheads outta there! So, watch out . . . and make darn sure you register to vote – and vote often – for the right people to represent you. Our good ole USA is depending on you.

  10. Sara says:

    Howard, you said it well that this problem is more “imagined than real”. Moreover, Yereshumi and his ilk’s consistent propaganda is intended to spread irrational fear and hatred against 1/4 of the worlds population. Why? So that the American public will stay fearful enough to send billions of our tax dollars in aid to Israel. 2.5 billion was sent to Israel last summer at the same time that the debt ceiling was being debated. It looks like the people of Florida can’t be conned.

  11. Patty Jones says:

    It baffles me to see so many comment posters miss the whole point of the article!!!!!!

  12. Loriel says:

    As a woman I find any support of Sharia Law horrific. It is not anti-Islamic to say this. At some point in time, it becomes ridiculously redundant to keep defending the obvious.

    • Nancy N. says:

      I don’t see anyone here defending Sharia Law. You’re right it is a terrible thing. I just see people here who correctly recognize that there is no threat of it being imposed on Floridians, and that anti-Sharia laws are nothing but a biased attempt to demonize and marginalize our muslim population in this country by creating a straw boogeyman.

      • Layla says:

        Nobody here is attempting anything of the kind. The old “racist” argument again. Won’t fly this time. The courts are filling up with challenges.

  13. ASPCJ says:

    Patty Jones,

    What is it in that article that we all missed? Please explain your comment.

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  14. Dorothea says:

    Quote from New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, Republican:

    “This Shariah law business is crap,” said Christie, 48. “It’s just crazy and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”

  15. BW says:

    There is a movement throughout the world by some extremists trying to push governments to instill Sharia Law over their existing laws by encouraging Muslims to actually break that government’s laws. It’s absurd and harmful to the overall Muslim community. Just as Canon Law of Catholics can not supercede the “laws of the land” nor should Sharia Law be allowed to. If this group insists on causing disruption then I agree that the answer should be spelled out in a written law as to which law actually applies. A half a page would do it and there should be no reason it hasn’t passed.

  16. jespo says:

    It is our laws and the rights thereby derived that we need to follow. Our civil and human rights laws are what seperate us from the stone age theocracys still missing some branches on the evolutionary tree. The last time we mixed politics and religion in this country people were hung from trees. Islam is not the only brutal religion when it comes to ‘religious law and punishments’; the Christian Bible is rife with atrocious behavior no better than the Muslims. We need more common sense in our courts, not mindless blubbering having to do with imaginary friends and foes. I can’t believe this is still a topic for our legal system these days…it sickens me.

  17. some guy says:

    Is it that big of a deal to pass a law saying in Florida or US courts they must only follow our laws that are on the books?? What I see as a big deal is that we are getting to a place that we need to say that.

  18. George says:

    It is not often I agree with Gov. Christie but here I am. Florida is beset by high unemployment. Our housing market has collapsed. The education budget has been slashed. State assistance to the healthcare sector is being slashed. And our idiotic legislature is trying to ban Sharia law. How about the Napoleanic code, Canon Law, Torah law and how about Martian law. Wasting time and public money to solve a non-existing problem is silly.

  19. Helene says:

    Layla, thank you for that link. Facinating and horrifying. It should be required reading for ALL posters on this thread.
    Whether this threat is real or imagined, the point is “THE LAW OF THE LAND IS LAW” – period. Equal rights under the law – The United States Law – The US Constitution. No other laws take precedence over the US Constitution; it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddist, Scientologist, or whatever!

  20. Liana G says:

    Coming from a former British colony that observes formal British law, many of the accepted common law practices favor the observed cultures of its very diverse country. When an issue does make it to the courts, these cultural practices are taken into consideration – such as honor killings. Otherwise, it is a non issue. ( 20 cases in a populous country like America is a non issue) One of our very dominant cultural practices does not require the court to legalize a marriages in order for it to be recognized as long as the marriage is solemnized by a religious leader. Legalizing the marriage in court is mostly done by those who do so for migration purposes to countries requiring legal proof of the marriage.

    My country have the highest suicide rate among young people because arrange marriages are heavily practiced and conflicts strongly with the western influences of personal choice (had my mom not been a widow, I too may have added to the statistic). Yet there is no law that forbids it, even in a country of 750,000 people and increasingly dwindling. I cannot count on my hands how many school friends, both male and female, I have lost this way and the practice is so acceptable no one is ever shocked or surprised, just saddened.

    Based on the religion/culture, it is also acceptable to have multiple wives (this can be a good survival mechanism if wives are part of the selection process, in my opinion), some of whom may even be sisters (not comfortable with this, but I’ve seen it when I was little and they family seemed happy). There are also accepted practices of a widow being subject to marrying the brother of her dead husband, the alternative is to become an unpaid servant in her in-laws household until her death (don’t know how I feel about this one yet).

    An Egyptian friend who is divorced from her very abusive husband now lives in the US. The marriage produced a daughter but because of a law that does not allow women to retain custody of their child /children/daughters should they remarry, she is committed to remaining single, and is very happy in her choice. She has been divorced for over 15 years now and is her mid 30s. Sometimes the law enables us to do what our culture may otherwise reject.

    @Layla, Ally in the region? With friends like that who need enemies!

  21. Sally says:

    This is AMERICA if people want to have their laws apply then they should go back to where they came from.!!!!! ASPCJ has so hit the nail on the head. Our country is slipping out of our hands on a daily basis and all of these politicians keep drinking the kool-aid when they look down from heaven they will cry for their granchildren if they do not grow some. Wonder where the next Seal op should be, I don’t. He will destruct so many lives that it will make 9/11 look like the good ole days. WAKE UP!!!!!!! 6 months ago I would have never have imagined thinking this way but there are just too many signs. Look at who is now SOLELY responsible for our national defense. Like leaving comments on the internet enjoy it now because it may not be around forever. Islamophobia I do not think so It is called seeing the writing on the wall.

  22. PassTheLaw says:

    Muslim law is not compatible with our legal system. The Civitas report from the UK gives a good explanation why. There they started out the same way trying to accomodate the beliefs within their legal framework and now have a disaster on their hands. There are reasons the FBI cut off ties with CAIR. Don’t be lazy your research before calling people bigots etc. There is way more to this story than you know. The only reason the law got shot down was because it would also possibly interfere with Jewish arbitrations as a side effect. Muslim theology teaches that it is perfectly normal for girls as soon as they have their menses to be able to have sex. It teaches that if a woman gets divorced and then wants to remarry her husband again she must wait 4 months marry and have sex with another then divorce him wait 4 months then she can remarry the first husband. It teaches that a non muslim must convert to marry a muslim. It teaches a woman is supposed to have sex whenever her husband wants. It goes on and on.

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