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Opponents try to block 'anti-Sharia' bill ahead of Senate floor vote

Opponents of a bill that would ban courts from making a decision on certain cases based on foreign law are trying a last ditch effort to get it voted down on the Senate Floor. As Sascha Cordner reports, while the bill’s sponsors say they’re trying to make Florida courts pure, others are calling it an attack on certain religions.

“It’s unacceptable for his Senate to be infested with this hate speech being distributed.”

Ahmed Bedier is the head of United Voices of America, a group that is against the so-called “Anti-Sharia” legislation. “Sharia” refers to a moral and religious code of the Islam religion.

He’s referencing fliers that were recently distributed in the halls of the Capitol by two groups, “Students on Assignments Revealing: Propaganda and Infiltration” AND “Students for the Constitution.” The fliers say things, like “save us from the persecution of Shariah law,” as well as other phrases he says were used to tout a bill sponsored by Republicans, Representative Larry Metz and Senator Alan Hays.

The bill would provide guidance to the courts on how to apply foreign law in certain cases, specifically regarding family law.  The bill’s sponsors say it’s not an attack on religion. Representative Metz:

“And, it’s really not targeting any religion at all because it says ecclesiastical matters are not reached by the bill and there is no intention to violate the free exercise of religion.”

But, Bedier says with what recently happened with the distribution of fliers that he says targeted Muslims, he felt swift action needed to be taken.

So, Bedier came to the Capitol on Wednesday with religious leaders from different faiths, like Jewish and Muslim, to talk to Senate President Mike Haridopolos to investigate who’s behind all this, calling the fliers racist, and to stop the bill from moving forward due to another reason:

“Senator Alan Hays all along has been saying this bill has nothing to do with religion, has nothing to do with Islam, or Shariah, or Muslim Practices, but his action says otherwise. He’s distributing this anti-Muslim booklet about Shariah and right ahead of the vote, you’ve got all this fear-mongering happen that scare lawmakers on what Shariah is. It sends the wrong message and sets a wrong precedent that you can lobby and advocate using hate to push a bill forward and that should never happen.”

The booklet Hays has been distributing to other Senators is called “Shari'ah Law: Radical Islam's threat to the U.S. Constitution.” Hays has said it aims to educate people on Islam and Sharia law, and that it’s been well-received by Senators.

Bedier also says the bill is not new to the U-S and it’s something that’s lawmakers have been trying do all over the United States in about half of the 50 states over the past couple of years. But, he says the bill’s origins went under a different name:

“It started out to be something called the ‘Anti-Sharia Bill’ and when that was not successful in Oklahoma, and the courts threw it out, they basically replaced the word ‘Shariah’ with ‘foreign law.’ So, the bill, the version that’s in Florida now, is called ‘The Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases.’ ”

The bill is not only coming under attack from his group, it’s also facing opposition from law groups, like the Florida Bar Association. Carin Porras is the next person chosen to lead the Family law section of Florida Bar Association. She calls the bill unnecessary:

“because we already have laws in Florida that allow the courts to deny enforcement of any laws from foreign states and countries that violate Florida’s public policy.”

David Barkey with the Anti-Defamation League, another opponent of the bill agrees, that the bill isn’t necessary. He says he foresees problems with this bill if it’s signed into law:

“Somebody coming down from New York wanting to re-marry for instance. A court may say well, your divorce is no good here in the state of Florida, so you’re going to have to get a new divorce. So, it’s an open question that a court may not recognize  divorce which allow them to re-marry in the state o f Florida, which could open up a new can of worms in Family law.”

Barkey says the bill also can hurt religious groups, like Christians and Muslims. He gives an example of the Jewish faith:

“Because this bill would encompass all kinds of religious laws, it would have a detrimental impact to them. For instance, with regard to observant Jews, it would serve as an obstacle both to using Jewish tribunals to form the basis of a legal divorce and also for re-marriage.”

After the bill didn’t make it out of the session last year, the bill’s sponsors narrowed the bill, something all opponents have acknowledged.

However, they still claim the bill is not needed and some still call it an attack on religious freedom.

Still, the bill’s sponsors still maintains that the bill is not an attack on religion and the bill is a good one, with many provisions in place that address most of everyone’s concerns. Representative Metz:

“It’s only intended to affect individual rights that are either actual or foreseeable that could be violated by the application of foreign law. So, it’s not as broad-sweeping as some of the opponents want to make it out to be. They just don’t like the idea that we might not apply foreign law in certain cases, and that’s the object of the bill is to make sure we don’t do that in certain cases. So, we’re trying to be clear in our legislative policy statement.”

The bill is expected to be taken up on Thursday in the Florida Senate.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.