Activist decries Florida Senate passing bill forbidding use of foreign law in state's courts

04/28/14 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: islam, Muslims, Florida Legislature, Laila Abdelaziz

photo by Seán Kinane.

Florida would become the eighth state to outlaw the use of foreign law in the state's courts under a bill passed by the Senate Monday. But opponents contend the action is unnecessary and targets Muslims. The bill is sponsored by Senator Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla

Not everyone agrees with Senator Hays.

Laila Abdelaziz is Tampa Bay regional director for Emerge USA, a non-profit, non-partisan group with the goal to engage Muslim Americans in the political process.

"Senate bill 386 is this attempt to ban the application of foreign law in US and Florida courts in certain cases. But essentially Senator Hayes is proposing a measure that would try to ban the use of foreign law when that foreign law is against the public policy of our state or our country which the US Constitution and the Florida constitution and the judicial system, they already do that. You can't, in the courts, reference a foreign law if it is contradictory to the Florida or US constitutions."

Why would you be opposed to that?

"Because of the intricacies of the legislative process. This legislation, as innocuous as it may sound; banning the use of foreign law in Florida courts, there is a set standard. We live in a state, we have 100 million visitors that visit Florida from outside of the state every year. We have international business that our state really relies on. There is a standard, a set standard, for when foreign law has to be referenced or respected. There's families in the state of Florida that have entered contracts in foreign countries and now live in the United States. There are agreeing adults that have entered contracts all over the world and they live here in our state. So when you're banning the application of foreign law it's limited to two statutes. It's limited to child custody issues and divorce issues. What you're doing is allowing a judge to really take it into his own account as to whether or not he wants to respect a contract that adults have willingly entered. It can really threaten the way that our Florida court systems deal with foreign law. There's some Constitutional issues with it."

What is Sharia law and how does that enter into this discussion?

"That's a really interesting question. If you have followed this legislation, this is the 4th time that the Florida legislature is dealing with this bill, the application of foreign law. It's the 4th time that Senator Hayes has sponsored it and Sharia law always enters the conversation. About 4 years ago a lot of states proposed anti-Sharia bills. They were directly named anti-Sharia bills. In Oklahoma the measure passed and was immediately struck down by the circuit court. This legislation is based off of model legislation created by American Laws for American Courts. It's model legislation drafted primarily by a gentleman named David Yershalmi who the New York Times identified as the father of the Islamophobia movement in the United States. This legislation believes that Sharia law is contradictory to US law and so therefore you have to ban it in the United States. That there's a threat that Sharia law poses to our court systems and to the American way of life. After the circuit courts in the State of Oklahoma had struck down the anti-Sharia legislation the model legislation was quickly redrafted to say anti foreign law which kind of created the target community that would be affected by this legislation is a broader community now because as narrow minded in targeting the Sharia community or like the Muslim American community, with the change to the terminology to anti foreign law, that's why the Sharia conversation is still in the picture because what is the intention of this legislation? Senator Hays, who's the bill's sponsor himself, he says this is a preventative measure. He says that he's a dentist and he knows more well than anyone else how important preventative measures are. There's no issue in our court system that this legislation is trying to solve. The idea is that this legislation is based on an unfounded fear of Muslim Americans. This misunderstanding, really, of who are Muslim Americans and what morals and values guide them as a community here in America. There's a broader conversation to be had but Sharia law is the moral code that guides a Muslim's life. It's really up to the interpretation of said Muslim's or communities or mosques to define what Sharia means to them but I absolutely wouldn't say that it's contradictory to any codes or laws or the legal world that we have to respect here as Americans."

Who is supporting this bill and what kinds of groups oppose it?

"Senator Alan Hays is the sponsor that has proposed this legislation for the past 4 years in the Florida legislature. The groups that we have been able to identify as publicly supporting the legislation are, of course, the Florida Family Association which is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it's an active hate group based here in Tampa, Florida actually. They have been very active through the committee process, the legislative process targeting their community, engaging their community in engaging with legislators telling them they support this legislation because it is from American Laws for American Courts of Florida. Because they associate it as the measure that will ban Sharia law in our court system. There's also a veteran's group based in Melbourne, Florida which kind of is guided by this principle that biblical law should be the primary law of the United States. There's a lot of questionable groups that are supporting this legislation. These groups have been identified as hate groups by various institutes throughout the country. The groups opposing the legislation vary from the ACLU, the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, Emerge USA, CAIR Florida, so you have the leading civic engagement organizations from around the state opposing this legislation because it has a discriminatory history and it has very negative unintended consequences. And then you have the legal community, the international law section, the family law section. The Florida Chamber this year during the legislative session, the legislation has changed, it's been amended but all of these groups oppose the original language of Senate Bill 386."

The amended version passed today in the Senate, where does it go from here?

"It's kind of up in the air but from here the measure has to be voted on in the House so because Senator Simmons from Orlando proposed a 'strike all' amendment which kind of changed the language of the legislation on Friday and the new bill was voted and passed on today in the Senate so right now where we stand, the Senate version and the House version are different. The Senate version has to be sent over to the House, accepted, voted on there so it hasn't passed entirely yet. We still hope that our state legislators, the House of Representatives will take a strong stand and just reject this unnecessary legislation. It's entirely unnecessary, but we have 4 more days left."

SB 386 would prohibit judges from applying foreign laws in cases involving family law, including divorce, alimony, child support and child custody, as well as disallowing some judgments from foreign courts to be considered in state courts.

information from the AP was used in this report.

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