In our last installment, we looked at the origin of Florida’s recently-passed so-called “Sharia Law Statute,” and how it was passed despite there not being any apparent problem with Sharia law actually having ever been applied in Florida domestic relations cases, as evidenced by a lack of any reported appellate opinions so indicating. Additionally, we noted that although the law does not mention Sharia by name, one of its architects was reported to have passed out literature, in the Capitol, describing Sharia law as a “threat” to theConstitution, and who reportedly relied on the writings of a radical anti-Muslim rabbi in defending the need for the statute. Now let’s look a little bit at the opposition to the statute, and some of its evolution in response thereto.
As might be expected, opposition came from Muslim-Americans, who felt they were being unfairly targeted, including the largest of such groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. However, by no means were Muslim-Americans the only religious groups opposed to the legislation. The national Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League, was also opposed, as were the legislators making up the Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus. The pastor of the conservative Christian Florida “megachurch” Northland Church had also already gone on record in the preceding year with his belief that such legislation would probably do more harm than good.
Groups representing lawyers who would have to deal with the statute were also strongly opposed to its passage. The International Law Section of the Florida Bar authored a “White Paper” outlining several problematic areas, including violation of the separation of powers, infringement of freedom to contract, encroachment on Floridians’ religious freedom, interfering with foreign affairs, and more. The Family Law Section also authored a White Paper, which was partially summarized as follows by the Section Chair:
“If the legislation passes, Florida courts will be authorized to refuse to enforce provisions in a contract entered into in another state, even where the contract has a forum or venue selection clause, if the court finds that the laws of the other state do not provide its citizens with the same fundamental rights contained in the Florida or U.S. Constitutions. Using this standard, applying foreign law (or one’s choice of venue) could be virtually eliminated. The legislation is unnecessary, because Florida courts already refuse to enforce laws which violate Florida’s public policy. It will also make more work for courts because it will require them to first determine what rights and privileges a foreign state provide its citizens, followed by a potentially subjective decision as to whether those rights and privileges are the same as those which Florida citizens receive. This is all before it considers the actual provisions themselves. Prenuptial agreements, marital settlement agreements, agreements and orders on international child custody or child support would all be subject to this inquiry. ”
At the point when the two White Papers were issued, the Sharia Law bill had already been narrowed from all court actions, to apply only to those brought under Chapters 61 and 88 (UIFSA). The critical language of the bill at that point, requiring a court to find that (as cited in the ILS White Paper) a foreign law granted the “same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges guaranteed by the State Constitution or the United States Constitution” in order to apply such law, was thereafter scrapped as well.
The question remains, what did Florida end up with, in the final version of the Sharia Law Statute? We’ll look at that in our next installment.
*Note: the opinions expressed herein are those solely of this blog’s author, and not of the Florida Bar, nor of any of its Sections.