TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A bill that would ban Shariah, or Islamic law, and other foreign laws from being applied in state courts passed the House Thursday despite no evidence that judges have used foreign law against Floridians.
The House measure (HB 351) initially passed on a party-line 79-39 vote. One representative, St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson, later changed his yes to a no.
Gov. Rick Scott immediately praised the bill, which doesn't mention the word "Shariah."
"America was founded on principles of religious freedom," he said in a statement. "In Florida, we have many religions and cultures that contribute to the rich diversity of our great state ... I applaud the Florida House for passing HB 351 that would make clear the constitutional rights of our citizens will be protected."
Rep. Larry Metz, the bill's sponsor, said the measure is limited to foreign law in state family court, and only laws that contradict federal and state constitutional rights. The Yalaha Republican added it does not target specific religions and would not invalidate a foreign marriage, for instance.
"Read the bill," he said. "It provides clear policy guidance to the judiciary ... With the increasing internationalization of the economy, it's more likely people coming here are going to have legal agreements and decrees from their native countries and they're going to want to have those enforced in Florida courts."
But Caroline Mala Corbin, a constitutional law professor at University of Miami School of Law, called it a "legally pointless exercise."
"Florida courts already cannot apply any law, foreign or domestic, that is unconstitutional," she said. "Unconstitutional laws are by definition unenforceable."
She also noted that a law can be neutral on its face and still be considered discriminatory if it was "motivated by a discriminatory intent and has a discriminatory impact."
An identical bill in the Senate barely survived its last committee on a 5-4 vote.
Christopher Rumbold, a Boca Raton attorney and member of The Florida Bar's legislation committee, said his research has turned up no Florida case in which Shariah or another foreign law was used against a Florida resident.
"I am loath to impute any xenophobic characteristic to this bill," he said. "But I have been called unpatriotic based on my opposition."
The bill's proponents say they're just trying to head off what's happened in other states. Rumbold looked at those cases, too, he said, and "they don't say what (the bill's supporters) say they say."
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, six states have similar laws: Arizona, South Dakota, Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Oklahoma. The group sued in Oklahoma - where the law specifically mentioned Shariah - and that law was suspended.
In floor debate, Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat, called the man who drafted the first version of the law "a bigot."
David Yerushalmi is a Chandler, Ariz.-based lawyer who is trying to ensure Shariah is outlawed in the U.S. and drafted model legislation on which the Florida bill is based. He said he hoped Waldman wasn't referring to him.
"That is a simply false statement," he said.
Yerushalmi added that such a law would be good for Florida: "When foreign laws deny fundamental rights, they should not be given any credence in a United States court," he said.
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