Religious leaders: Florida's anti-Sharia bills are "an attack on all religions"

03/07/12 Janelle Irwin
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Multi-denominational religious leaders and advocacy groups came together in Tampa to speak out against twin bills in the Florida House and Senate. The measures would ban Foreign Laws from use in Florida courtrooms. Speakers at the press conference this afternoon said the proposed law is an attack on religious freedom.

The legislation passed the Florida House last week by a wide margin, 92-24. It hasn’t been heard on the Senate floor yet, but easily passed through two committees. The bill’s sponsor in the House is Republican Representative Larry Metz. He claims the bill is a proactive measure that doesn’t isolate any particular religion. But literature found distributed through the Senate makes the director of Tampa’s Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hassan Shibly think otherwise.

“It’s really unconscionable that in 2012 in America, we have Florida Senators walking around the floor of the Senate and distributing hateful, anti-Muslim material; inciting hatred against a religious minority. It is that kind of hatred which led to the terrible terrorist attack in Norway. We really have to be cognizant that this hateful rhetoric sometimes has real implications.”

He compared the efforts in Florida to pass so-called anti-Sharia legislation to a similar law passed in Oklahoma. That law was declared unconstitutional. But, Oklahoma’s version contained specific language pertaining to Muslim faith and Sharia Law. The twin bills in Florida just use the term “foreign law”. Shibly said regardless plans are already in the works to challenge it if signed by Governor Rick Scott.

“When you examine a bill you not want to look at the literal language, but at the legislative intent? What’s the reason? What were the authors of the bill thinking when they wrote it? And courts even use the legislative intent when they are deciding cases, so the legislative intent is just as important as the literal words.”

The legislation, tagged Senate Bill 1360 and House Bill 1209, also has opponents wondering why it’s even necessary. Laila Abdelaziz is the central Florida field coordinator for the group Emerge USA. She said people already acknowledge that the law of the land overrides the laws of religious traditions.

“We would like to remind our Florida legislators that SB 1360 is an unnecessary action as State and U.S. Constitutions clearly and firmly prohibit the use of foreign laws in the court systems.”

But Russell Meyer who is the executive director for the Florida Council of Churches said it is clear that this is a response to un-warranted fear and hatred.

“And the fact is, Muslims have been in the United States of America since before its beginning. One third of all Africans brought over here in slavery were Muslims. Other people who immigrated to this country early were Muslims. The fact that most Americans don’t know that history is not reason and cause to now suddenly out of fear, misunderstanding and hate shun what is important for Muslims.”

And Chuck Leigh, president of the Florida Council of Churches, said very evil things started just as silly as this legislation.

“I think a law like this is pointing a way that could end with nothing less than holocaust. You might think, ‘oh, well this is silly’. And it is. But evil things start with silliness that we don’t pay attention to. So, while this law in itself has no real effect, it puts in our minds the idea that we can use law to separate people.”

Many conservative thinkers have attacked the premise of Sharia Law by calling attention to extreme examples – some of which include acts of violence against non-Muslims. But CAIR’s Hassan Shibly said Sharia Law is really just a Muslim way of life and most of those examples are outdated.

“You have very similar kinds of verses found in the Old Testament and the New Testament - and our partners here I think can speak to that – yet nobody thinks that Christians are going to go around stoning people and we need to outlaw the bible. I would be opposed to anybody who advocates that. The same way they take things out of context and mis-apply it. They’re very hypocritical. They have a double standard in what they do.”

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Larry Metz (R-Eustis), did not respond to an interview request. An identical version of the bill will be heard in the Senate tomorrow. Shibly said he’s afraid the bill will pass because there are too many politicians willing to give into the promotion of fear and hatred of Muslims. He called the legislation anti-American.

UPDATE: The bill was never put up for a vote before the full Senate. The Senate sponsor, Alan Hays, has said if he is reelected, he will re-introduce the measure next year.

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