By Kathleen Haughney
TALLAHASSEE – Ignoring about 50 people who wanted to testify – and with a total of three minutes of deliberation – a Senate panel Tuesday slammed through a measure that both Muslims and Jews say is discriminatory and would prohibit them from freely practicing their religion.
The 5-2 vote by the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Subcommittee approved legislation, SB 1360, that would ban any court or legal authority from using any sort of religious or foreign law as part of a legal decision or contract.
Some supporters acknowledge the bill was targeting Sharia law, the Koran-based code used by Muslims that, in the words of the Florida Family Association that supports the bill, “authorizes polygamy, pedophilia and perpetuates violence toward women and death for dishonoring the faith.” Similar bills have been filed by conservative Republicans in other states and in Congress, where Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, is a prime sponsor.
But to many Muslims, the bill directly targets their religion. And it’s made odd bedfellows out of many Muslims and Jews, who say the law could also impact some of their traditions.
Andrew Rosenkranz, regional director for the Anti Defamation League, said that the decisions of Jewish tribunals called Bet Dins, which often handle divorce proceedings, are often converted into civil divorce decrees by the courts. But under the Senate bill, and another ready for a vote by the entire House, an observant Orthodox couple would “effectively be barred from following their faith and using a Jewish tribunal to dissolve their marriage,” he said.
“The alleged threat of Islamic, other religious or foreign law to Florida’s court system is completely illusory, and the Senate’s consideration of this measure is an unwise use of resources,” Rosenkranz said, adding that both the Florida and U.S. constitutions “already prohibit the unconstitutional application of foreign law in the courts.”
But neither representatives from the ADL nor about 50 Muslims who were visiting Tallahassee as part of Muslim Day at the capital were allowed to speak at the meeting, which had more than 20 bills on the agenda and started late.
“They kind of shoved it to the end, and they didn’t really let us discuss it,” said Ahmed Bedier, founder of United Voices of America, which works on minority issues. “You have like 50 people against it. They didn’t let a single person speak.”
For that matter, the proponents barely spoke either. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, did not appear to present the bill, instead sending House sponsor Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha.
Metz offered little elaboration of what the bill would do, other than to say that it offered “policy guidelines on the application of foreign law.” There was no discussion before the vote.
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, chairwoman of the committee, said she opted to hear the bill last because the committee had so many bills to get through and would not have been able to hear any others if they’d put the measure first on the agenda.
A few lawmakers stayed after the meeting to discuss the bill with opponents who were unable to testify. Many argued that U.S. and Florida law is the ultimate standard in any legal dispute. But the bill would disrespect religious practices, they said.
“We’re not recognized,” said Nina Hogin, of Ocala. “They just turn their head away. No matter how you look at it, we’re human beings. We’re human beings.”
During a conversation following the meeting, Metz agreed to meet with Bedier. However, he did not respond to a request for comment from the Sentinel/Sun-Sentinel.
email@example.com or 850-224-6214.