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Politics

House Passes 'Anti-Sharia' Bill; CAIR Vows Court Challenge

February 29, 2012 - 6:00pm

A national author of "anti-Sharia" legislation and an Islamic group can agree on one thing: A South Dakota bill prohibiting the enforcement of religious law is wrong-headed.

But the two remain on opposite sides of a Florida bill barring foreign laws in state courts. The bill, which cleared the Florida House 92-24 on Thursday, will be challenged in court if it becomes law, a Muslim leader said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations this week called for the governor of South Dakota to veto that state's anti-Sharia Law legislation.

"[It] not only discriminates against Muslims but prevents persons of all faiths from incorporating into their wills, contracts and other legal documents provisions that reflect their religious traditions," CAIR said in a statement.

David Yerushalmi is inclined to agree, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

"The South Dakota draft is ill-advised and just plain wrong-headed," declared Yerushalmi, who has authored draft legislation through a group called American Laws for American Courts.

"The South Dakota law simply prohibits any religious law from being enforced by a state court, whether or not that religious law violates a party's constitutional right. Thus, a purely innocuous religious agreement could not be enforced. That's stupid."

By targeting religious law as opposed to foreign laws, the South Dakota legislation is "problematic constitutionally," Yerushalmi said.

By contrast, Florida's House Bill 1209, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis, is modeled after the ALAC draft, which only prohibits the application of foreign law -- whether religious or not -- when the application of that law would violate a party's constitutional rights.

See the bill here.

"It's like comparing apples [ALAC/Florida] with dirt [South Dakota]," Yerushalmi told Sunshine State News.

Yerushalmi dismisses complaints by Muslim and Jewish groups that say the Florida legislation tramples religious rights.

"If a 'religious' matter does not get into court, the law does not apply because it specifies only 'foreign' law," he said. "If 'Sharia' gets into court, the law only applies if the Sharia ruling would deprive a party of due process or equal protection.

"Is CAIR arguing that a Florida state court should enforce a foreign law that violates fundamental constitutional liberties?" Yerushalmi asked.

Hassan Shibly, CAIR's Florida director, said "the law doesn't do anything helpful."

"Courts cannot void constitutional rights, so you don't need a law targeting foreign law," said Shibly.

If Metz's bill is signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, the CAIR director said his group is "ready to challenge in the courts."

"It is the height of patriotism to stand up for the Bill of Rights -- even when it's unpopular," Shibly said.

In floor debate on Thursday, Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, branded Metz's measure a "prejudicial crusade" and "clearly an anti-Muslim initiative."

But Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, said the bill provided "necessary clarity to judges."

The House discussion was brief and perfunctory, as a vocal opponent of the bill, state Rep. Richard Steinberg, resigned last month in the wake of a personal sexting scandal.

In addition to Gaetz, HB 1209 attracted bipartisan support with a lengthy list of co-introducers: Reps. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach;Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg; Ben Albritton, R-Bartow; Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala; Debbie Boyd, D-High Springs; Douglas Broxson, R-Milton; Matthew Caldwell, R-Fort Myers; Daphne Campbell, D-Miami; Richard Corcoran, R-New Port Richey; Fred Costello, R-New Smyrna Beach; Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs; Clay Ford, R-Pensacola; James Grant, R-Tampa; Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton; Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie; Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola; Sen. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda; Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville; Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota; Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City; Franklin Sands, D-Sunrise; Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto; Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland; Greg Steube, R-Sarasota; John Tobia, R-Melbourne; Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka; and Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville.

An identical bill, SB 1360 by Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has cleared two committees in the Senate and appears headed for passage as well.

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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