Florida Sharia Law Statute: A Solution In Search of a Problem

In May 2014 the Florida legislature passed a particularly shameful milestone with its adoption of the so-called “Sharia Law Statute.” This is the story of its origin, a sham: responding to a non-existent “threat,” transparently calculated to appeal to the worst in human nature.

A cosponsor of this sad charade was Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, a Baptist retired dentist, who has repeatedly denied a bigoted basis for the law, which is careful not to mention Sharia by name. Yet Hays is also reported to have distributed leaflets in the Capitol which warn that Sharia is “Radical Islam’s Threat to the U.S. Constitution.”  The legislation was nevertheless reported as targeting Sharia law, despite the lack of any apparent threat or actual trend that Sharia was actually being applied here. When asked about this lack of any threat to apply Sharia or any foreign law in Florida courts, Hays defended the measure as necessary anyway, being similar to a parent inoculating her child against a “dreadful disease.”  In defending his proposed legislation, Hays also reportedlyrepeatedly relied upon the writings of radical anti-Muslim Rabbi Jonathan Hausman in explaining the supposed “need” for the anti-“foreign law” bill.  And Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, seemed to make a point of insulting a group of 15 Muslim college and graduate students who appeared in opposition to the legislation, saying “I would like to thank the folks that came to speak in opposition to this bill – because you are the very example of why this bill should pass.”

So, let’s not beat around the bush. Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, stated that the bill was “reprehensible” and stemmed “directly from a hatred of Muslims.” The latter half of the above blog title is also a Waldman quote.

It does not appear that when questioned, any of the bill’s sponsors or supporters could point to any actual examples of its “necessity,” although reportedly Hays first began his crusade after a Hillsborough County trial judge ruled, in a case involving Muslim litigants in a suit concerning an Islamic religious and community center, as the litigants had previously agreed, that a Muslim religious leader could mediate their dispute.

Wow, that’s the “threat to our Constitution?” At a political website devoted to this “issue,” others claiming the same nonsense attempt to refute the more realistic view that there is no such problem by claiming that the purported problem was more than “one or two” cases, with cites to a whopping 50 state cases (including the Tampa case), in the history of the United States, as if 50 cases out of hundreds of thousands, if not more, was somehow statistically relevant. The same website claims that women and children are most often the victims of Sharia law’s application, but the website cites to 4 cases from Florida, the Tampa Islamic center case and 3 Florida family law cases, and in none of those family cases wasany Islamic law actually applied.

In one of the cases, an Iranian prenuptial agreement was invalidated due to the very American legal concepts of a lack consideration and of a meeting of the minds.  In a second, Virginia law was applied to refuse to recognize an Islamic wedding where the couple failed to obtain a marriage license.  And the third case held that, as an evidentiarypoint, the trial court could not bar any mention or consideration of a prenuptial agreement simply because it was entered into in a foreign country.

So what, besides bigotry, could be the point of the “Sharia Law Statute?” The answer, unfortunately, is political posturing, “swiftboating” to what is hopefully a small fringe demographic within the electorate. Once the sponsors of this bill got Democrats on record as opposing it, reports on right-wing blogs immediately began circulating with the spurious claim that those opposing the bill had voted “to impose Sharia law” on Florida women, which the politifact fact-checking website gave its most untruthful rating, of “pants on fire.”

Unfortunately, it appears that the shameful “two-fer” of racism and political shenanigans is still enough to get legislation passed in Florida.

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