Florida's "anti-Sharia" legislation received some added impetus last week when a Pennsylvania court bowed to Islamic sensibilities and acquitted a Muslim defendant of assault.
Magistrate Judge Mark Martin recited religious and cultural customs to dismiss a harassment case against a Muslim man who assaulted an atheist activist at a Halloween parade.
The victim, Ernest Perce, wore a Zombie Mohammed costume and pretended to walk among the dead.
Talag Elbayomy, a Muslim immigrant, physically attacked Perce, attempted to pull his sign off and admitted to police what he had done immediately after the incident, according to a report by National Review Online.
A "Zombie Pope" passed by unmolested.
The defense argued that Elbayomy believed it was a crime to insult the prophet Mohammed -- it is, under Sharia law -- and because Elbayomy was in the company of his children, he had to act to end the provocation and defend Islam.
"Judge Martin did not lecture the defendant about free speech or how disputes are resolved in a civilized country. He instead dressed the victim down for failing to appreciate how sensitive Muslims are about Islam," Andrew McCarthy wrote at NRO.
The Pennsylvania case could resonate in Florida as state lawmakers consider House Bill 1209, which would bar Sharia law from being considered in courts.
"We're trying to anticipate problems we see in other states and address them proactively," said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis, sponsor of HB 1209.
"This will preclude unjust results in cases where the outcome could be different if we didn't have the bill."
Hassan Shibly, Florida director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, disputed McCarthy's reading of the Pennsylvania case.
"I dont think this has anything to do with Sharia law. It was purely based on American law," said Shibly, a graduate of the SUNY Buffalo law school.
A transcript of the Pennsylvania case quotes Judge Martin as telling the assault victim:
"I dont think youre aware, sir, theres a big difference between how Americans practice Christianity -- uh, I understand youre an atheist. But, see, Islam is not just a religion, its their culture, their culture. Its their very essence, their very being. ...
"What you have done is youve completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very, very, very offensive."
Then, speaking up for the defendant, Judge Martin speculated:
"If his intent was to harass, annoy or alarm, I think there would have been a little bit more of an altercation. Because there is not, it is not proven to me beyond a reasonable doubt that this defendant is guilty of harassment. Therefore I am going to dismiss the charge."
Shibly told Sunshine State News that anti-Sharia legislation popping up around the country is the brainchild of David Yerushalmi, legal counsel at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy and author of "American Laws for American Courts."
Yerushalmi could not be reached for comment, but he has been quoted as saying, "Policy makers in Washington, Jerusalem and in Europe must recognize that 1 billion Muslims around the world with a dream of a One World Islamic state will not simply melt peacefully into the West."
Supporters of HB 1209 deny any connection to Yerushalmi, but proponents of anti-Sharia legislation point to more than 50 pending appellate court cases from 23 states that involve conflicts between Sharia and U.S. law.
In a 2010 New Jersey case, a state court voided a lower-court acquittal of a Muslim man who allegedly raped his wife.
Transcripts of S.D. v. M.J.R. recounted how the woman was repeatedly beaten and raped by her husband over several weeks. Yet the trial judge did not hold the defendant liable because the man believed he was exercising his "rights" over the victim.
Both the husband and wife were Moroccan immigrants.
Though that decision was overturned on appeal, Cully Stimson of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies warned, "Make no mistake about it: This is no isolated incident.
"We will see more cases in the United States where others attempt to impose Sharia law, under the guise of First Amendment protections, as a defense against crimes and other civil violations," Stimson predicted.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.