Foreign Law Bill Generates Controversy; Opponents Say It's Just a Veiled Attempt to Ban Sharia Law in Florida

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Byline: Larry Hannan

A bill that passed the Florida House last week prohibiting foreign legal principles from being used in state courts appears to have united Muslim and Jewish advocates in opposition to it.

The legislation, which is often referred to as the anti-Sharia law even though the word "Sharia" appears nowhere in it, must still pass the Florida Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. The governor has said he supports it.

Supporters of the legislation argue that the bill is designed to ensure foreign law does not infiltrate the state's family courts. Opponents say it is a thinly veiled attempt to ban Sharia, or Islamic law, which is based on the Koran, but the way it's written could make it difficult to enforce contracts and family law agreements that were done outside the United States.

"It sends a message that Florida is not a state that welcomes Muslims and members of the Jewish community," said Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The law could threaten marriages done in foreign countries and calls into question whether divorces and premarital agreements will be honored, Shibly said.

Dave Barkey, an attorney with the Anti-Defamation League, said the bill is obviously designed to prevent Islamic law from being used in courts. But it will also affect Jewish law.

"In Jewish communities, the Beth Din regulates family law," Barkey said. "Courts in Florida will no longer be able to honor that under this legislation."

Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, the bill's sponsor, told The Associated Press that the measure is limited to foreign law in state family court and only laws that contradict federal and state constitutional rights.

Metz said it does not target specific religions and would not invalidate a foreign marriage.

"With the increasing internationalization of the economy, it's more likely people coming here are going to have legal agreements and decrees from their native countries and they're going to want to have those enforced in Florida courts," Metz said.

Randy McDaniels, head of ACT! Jacksonville, a local chapter of a national group that describes itself as anti-radical Islam, said the law is needed.

"It prohibits parts of international law that conflict with our laws and constitution," McDaniels said.

He cited a 2010 case in New Jersey where a Moroccan woman sought a restraining order against her husband after he repeatedly assaulted and raped her. The judge denied the request, finding that the defendant lacked criminal intent because he believed that his wife must comply, under Islamic law, with his demand for sex. …