Florida’s anti-Sharia law problematic, and not only for Muslims

State lawmakers around the country have proposed bills to effectively make sharia law illegal. FOR GOD’S SAKE | Having handily … Continued

State lawmakers around the country have proposed bills to effectively make sharia law illegal.


Having handily passed through the Florida House, and expecting easy passage through the state Senate, the “Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases” bill, could soon be the law in Florida. What is the bill all about? Depends upon whom you ask.

Its sponsors claim it’s nothing more than an attempt to maintain maximal and fully equal legal protection for all people living in Florida. Its detractors see it as yet another attempt to preempt reliance on any legal system or body, Islamic or otherwise, which holds itself to any standards other than the Florida and United States constitutions.

Most disturbingly, as I see it, the law would strip people of their constitutional rights to voluntarily participate in communities and/or contracts which should not be governed by secular law. And the key word here is voluntarily.

That Florida lawmakers want to see the protections afforded by state and federal law remain the bedrock of all legal proceedings conducted in their state is not such a terrible thing. And although it will offend some people who are immediately offended by any legislation directed against reliance on Sharia or other religious systems being used in secular courts, it merits recognizing the fairness of questioning why those systems, especially when they fail to meet the measure of our own legal norms, should be relied upon, or why decisions reached in a religious or foreign institutions should be enforced.

Truth be told, not all legal systems are equal at least not from our perspective as Americans. We need not apologize for our commitment to the constitutional protections which we hold so dear and our belief that it makes for a superior legal system. But it’s also clear that our democratic tradition also recognizes the rights of individuals to make decisions for themselves; decisions through which they may limit the application of those rights in private matters such as marriage and divorce.

Ultimately, the issue here is the extent to which we are willing to protect people’s freedom of individual expression and conscience. To what extent do we appreciate that people have a right to give up some choices and protections? However much that might disturb some of us, protecting that right is what makes our Constitution so great.

It would be nothing short of tragic to implement a law which could undermine people’s right to make free and voluntary decisions regarding their own lives simply because some other people don’t like the codes upon which they base their decision. How painfully ironic it would be to pass into law, a measure that could undermine constitutional rights in the name of protecting them! It’s like something out of Orwell’s 1984.

It’s also worth recognizing that this story got more attention when Jewish groups began to oppose the proposed law, almost certainly having been motivated by the fact that if passed, the law could severely limit, or even nullify, the power of Jewish courts to issue religious divorces. Makes me wonder why doing the same thing to Muslims did not merit attention.

I fear that it points to ongoing challenges faced by American Muslims, and the deep suspicion with which their religion is viewed by many other Americans. Based on how this story entered the news cycle, it seems that were people convinced that this legislation would “only” curtail any reliance on Muslim law, they really would not care. But, if it impinges on the religious laws of other people read “good people with good religions” only then would it be really problematic.

This law, however well-intentioned it might be, is simply not a good idea at least it’s not until there is a great deal more public conversation about what really motivates those who support it, and also the extent to which its passage might actually undermine the very freedoms and protections which it claims to preserve.

Brad Hirschfield
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  • WyoSpartan

    WaPo – While I must admit I have not read this bill, based upon this article I would have to say that if one lives in America, you are to follow and obey our constitutional laws, state and federal. There are many religions practiced in this country and those people all must follow the laws of the land. Why the worry about Muslims?

  • Armored Knight

    But….We DO look at this religion with suspicion…Ask Boston. There is nothing wrong with taking pre-emtive action against any foreign law trying to encroach our courts in our sovriegn land, especially the way things are going lately

  • bobsdcaob

    Will this law impact Christian religious courts? Several Christian denominations have courts, including the Mormons. Maybe this proposed law should get a closer look before it’s enacted into law.

  • shanti2

    In some matters, as is pointed out here, all religions have “laws” that are not in compliance with civil law. Case in point, is the Catholic, Jewish and Mormon laws regarding marriage and divorce. And that is just the most obvious case. If this law is intended to prevent Muslims from living according to their religious laws, it will also prevent all others from doing the same.

  • shanti2

    What you seem to be missing here, Knight, is that any such law that will pass constitutional tests has to apply to everyone. If it is intended to target only Muslims, it won’t pass that test, and if it is general enough to pass the constitutional test, it will apply to all religions and restrict everyone’s right to live by religious laws. Anyone that believes in religious liberty will abhor this law.

  • tidelandermdva

    I do not accept that certain Jewish laws that may also discriminate against women are “good laws”.

    He states “the protections afforded by state and federal law remain the bedrock of all legal proceedings conducted in their state is not such a terrible thing..it merits recognizing the fairness of questioning why those systems, especially when they fail to meet the measure of our own legal norms, should be relied upon, or why decisions reached in a religious or foreign institutions should be enforced.”

    This raises a couple of questions. By “legal proceddings” does this mean that the state would conduct legal processes according to the religious codes if the parties “voluntarily” agreed? And what is meant by “enforced” Enforced by whom? The state? The law is the law is the law. The state should never conduct any legal proceedings by any law except the law, that is the law adopted by the people of the state. And the state should not enforce contracts or decisions based any law but state law.

    A great fallacy of the market is the pretension that “voluntary” contracts and other agreements are truly voluntary and that there is no asymmetry of power dictating the terms of such contracts.

    Certainly, the Catholics should be able to refuse to marry same sex couples or couples that admit that they would practice birth control. And the Catholic Church should be able to continue its inhumane practice of excommunicationg remarried people (unless they are Mr. and Mrs. Newt) But this should not intrude into whether such people obtain civil marriages or divorces.

    Neither should compliance with any such religious requirements be allowed to be a factor in state court decisions.

    However, we need to be careful that this law is not acrtually (or also) aimed at courts considering laws and practices from other first world nations in rendering decisions.Courts have been attacked for taking cognizance of evolving practices in Europe for example.

  • Secular1

    So Mr. Hirshfeild, do you think a seventy year old muslim man should be allowed to take on a 14 year old 4th wife, if she agrees to voluntarily? Your harangue is without substance as usual. Perhaps you will make an exception to your stated position as the child is just a child and not competent enough to give her consent. But then you are now injecting the secular law. Now then teh bride was say 25 year old will you let it happen? Without regard to prohibitions in secular law against polygamy, or does that only apply to Mormons? Your article is just rubbish. What if one of the parties who entered into so called voluntarily entered to agreement changes his mind and likes to abrogate teh agreement. What then, the judge just has to weigh and see if the agreement is within bounds of US law. This is done on all agreement, why not religious agreements, why should they need an exception?

  • alltheroadrunnin

    But but but Dennis Prager, your friend and confidant, continually asserts American law and social traditions are founded on Judeo-Christian principles, the Ten Commandments, in particular. What’s a boy to do?

  • xexon

    Florida is a weird place. I used to live there and grew up in Alabama. Bible belt country. Christians dominate the lanscape and the government. Jewish snowbirds from the NE are also plentiful. But Muslims face a hard road in Florida. Mostly because few locals know any. And they don’t like what they see on TV about them.

    They’ve been programmed from the early 70’s to be anti-Muslim. Who programmed them to be that way is another matter…


  • Joel Hardman

    You can’t contract around criminal law, so I think the 70 year old would be hit with a statutory rape charge if he tried to consummate the marriage. I don’t know FL or criminal law that well, so I don’t know if there are marriage or other exceptions here, though.

  • Joel Hardman

    I worry about how genuine the consent is in some cases where a person agrees to be bound by a religious court. If a woman agrees to be bound by Sharia law or a Jewish court out of fear of stigmatization, that’s a problem.

  • Secular1

    Yes the Catholic priests were rapist and them not being thrown into a cell and getting rid of the keys is indeed injustice. That said there wasn’t any statutorily established accommodation to those types of activity that Catholic priests were taking advantage of. In fact there are quite few of them now being prosecuted and being convicted and meeting what they deserve. The two things are plain different.

  • MichaelxxSexton

    If sharia attempts to nullify or replace the constitution then it is more than religion.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    Gee, I just thought of one thing, here. What if the nine or ten year old, or thirteen year old, liked it? What if they always liked it that way? What does age have to do with pleasure?” The “Creator” endowed most humans with the pleasure of sexual orgasms. Who is anyone to say when one can have them, or under what circumstances? You think older people know anything? Look at the world they have created, and answer that.

  • Kingofkings1

    Beware the extremists of all faiths, including constitutionalists

  • SolarHero

    ArmoredKnight, I hope you do realize that Catholics following the Pope’s/church’s law, is also a foreign law. May be Christmas shouldn’t be a holiday. Who allowed that foreign law in our society? or was that freedom of following your own religious beliefs?

  • Don_in_Odessa

    There is no law that is good, save that one law that allows total freedom to the individual. Total freedom, that is, that does not impinge on the freedom of another.

  • Catken1

    But then, would not the individual have the right to decide to have their conflicts settled by Sharia law?

  • Catken1

    It’s not. All that is happening is that some Muslims are choosing, freely, to use Sharia law to settle their disputes and adjudicate conflicts.
    It is no more threatening, under the Constitution, than a couple choosing to have their marital problems mediated by a rabbi or a Catholic priest, instead of going to the secular divorce court.

  • Catken1

    Well, at some level that applies to every choice. There are cultures in the US where a woman is pressured into marrying her parents’ choice of partner – she has the legal right to refuse, but may be subject to fear of stigmatization or loss of her family. There are cultures where a gay person is pressured to hide his or her sexuality and either remain celibate or enter into a sham heterosexual marriage, out of fear of stigmatization. There are cultures where interfaith or interracial marriages are similarly frowned upon.
    However, adults are expected to be able to weigh their fears and the consequences of their own actions, and choose accordingly. We can’t make people not stigmatize other people for making the “wrong” religious decisions.

  • Catken1

    You need to be a consenting adult, under civil law, to marry or have sex, and that does trump all religious law in this country, even when voluntarily adhered to.
    There is a difference between the mental capacity and judgment of a child or teenager, and that of an adult. That is a simple fact, and the civil law steps in to protect children and teenagers from the potential for coercion.
    When religious law causes undue harm to others, or when one party is not eligible to give legal consent or does not do so, then secular law overrides it. Religious law may apply only if both parties to the question are consenting adults and agree to have it applied.

  • bbiceo

    Look at Europe!!! Look at the Netherlands where darker skinned women are given, “Smiley Faces,” (Razor Slashing) from Sharia Patrols working for established Sharia Councils for not wearing veils. Look at news in England, Sweden, and many others. Don’t pretend this is virgin territory! Your attaching some Jewish Law to the Sharia Movement for sneaky legalization is despicable. Yes, we may have to move or remove some language. Is that better or worse than European Sharia?

    I an appalled that the very liberal groups that promoted Woman’s’ equality in all areas of our society for a century seems to be supporting this! Having reviewed the latest terrible outcomes of Europe for women would you really attempt this? Ask the Egyptian women who just got placed under Morsi’s stricter Sharia Law if they are happy.

    It’s one thing to theorize! It’s entirely another issue to endanger the health, welfare and freedom of American women.
    There are examples all over the world. “A woman must have permission of the husband to leave the house” A woman cannot use contraception without the express permission of the husband. A wife can be beaten, not where it shows, for disobedience.

    Is this what you want? Are you any better administrators than the well meaning liberal congresses in Europe? I see no honest debate. I see no honest and objective articles showing the damage in Europe and identification clearly and distinctly of the sides in the States battle.

    Let the groups who want Sharia Law to edge its way into our laws come out of HIDING and try to make a comparison to Passive Jewish Law and Sharia PUBLICLY identifying each party clearly!! Let’s discuss It’s effects throughout the world to half of the Earth’s population. LETS HAVE A NATIONAL DEBATE IN WRITING or TV IDENTIFYING THE PARTIES who are ADVOCATES AND DETRACTORS! C-SPAN WOULD BE GOOD.

  • bbiceo

    Using Sharia Law in a country dominated by Muslims who chose Sharia Law is very acceptable Having any religious group in America settling legal problems using religious law is unacceptable. Our Constitution is the basis for our laws and its Bill of Rights is not to be usurped by religious belief. That’s the difference historically. Christianity and other religions were shoved into second place behind Constitutional beliefs and governance. Most Muslim Countries haven’t! There’s the Epiphany!

  • bbiceo

    Our Constitution and Bill of Right actually comes closer in a practical way to your pure thought than any other document. Nice thought!