Florida's legislature advanced a bill on Thursday that would bar domestic courtrooms from considering foreign law, a move many have interpreted as the latest contribution to a burgeoning national movement to prohibit Islamic Sharia law.
The bill, which passed Florida's House by a 92-24, does not explicitly mention Sharia law. Proponents say it will preserve the constitutional rights of people involved in domestic cases, such as those pertaining to divorce and inheritance.
There have been all sorts of wild accusations about what this bill does, said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who sponsored the Senate bill in Florida, according to the Associated Press. This is very clear, very simple: In American courts we need American laws and no other.
But the attempt to inoculate family-related cases against foreign laws echoes the arguments made by proponents of explicit Sharia law bans. In a 2010 speech depicting encroaching Sharia law as a paramount threat to America, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich mentioned a widely cited case in which a New Jersey judge invoked Sharia to deny a woman a restraining order against her abusive ex-husband (the ruling was swiftly overturned).
Sharia law refers to a massive body of Islamic codes and precepts that flow from interpretations of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. The term has come to be associated for many Americans with particularly brutal forms of Sharia that sanction punishments such as stoning adulterers or cutting the hands off of thieves, scholars note that those represent extreme forms of Sharia.
Does Bill Demonize Muslims?
Opponents say measures to prevent the practice of Sharia in American courtrooms demonize Muslims by conjuring a nonexistent problem.
The alleged threat of Islamic, other religious or foreign law to Florida's court system is completely illusory, and the Senate's consideration of this measure is an unwise use of resources, Andrew Rosenkranz, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League's Florida branch, told the AP.
Florida is not the first state to consider such a measure. Oklahoma's voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution that specifically banned Sharia law. A court subsequently blocked the law, saying that it discriminated against Muslims.
While the Florida law does not mention Sharia, opponents say it presents some of the same legal problems as the Oklahoma law. American courts are already barred from using foreign laws, making Florida's proposed bill wholly redundant, Rosenkranz said.
South Dakota's legislature passed a similar law this week by a wide margin, and Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard is expected to sign it. The legislation also avoids referring to Sharia, instead prohibiting the use of religious code by U.S. courts.
I would be less than fully honest with you if I didn't also say that part of the purpose of [HB] 1253 is to deal with what I am going to say generally has been referred to as Sharia law, Republican Rep. Roger Hunt, who sponsored the bill, said in a judiciary committee hearing, according to MSNBC.