The so-called "anti-Sharia law" bill strongly opposed by Muslim and Jewish organizations in Florida passed in the state Senate this morning on a 24-14 vote. Observers say the bill has changed substantially since Senator David Simmons(R-Winter Park) was charged with trying to get it through the Senate. The legislation would restrict judges from considering foreign law in matters of divorce, alimony, child support and custody. And it now says that the order of a foreign court would not be enforceable if it “offends the public policy of the state.”
But the arbitrary nature of "public policy" is what concerns Laila Abdelaziz with Emerge USA, an activist group that works on behalf of Muslim and Southeast Asian causes."Public policy is one of the terms that can determine it to be whatever the judge wants it to be," she says.
The controversial legislation has been opposed by Emerge USA for the past few years, as well as by the Anti-Defamation League and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, though Simmons said today that the Chamber is now okay with the revised language and supports the bill.
Senator Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) voted for the bill in committee last year, but opposed it today. She said that the law wasn't necessary for a number of reasons, such as the fact that Florida judges already have the power to apply Florida and U.S. law in courts and that the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution guards against any religious intrusion.
Hollywood Democrat Eleanor Sobel said the message the Senate was sending out was against a specific group of people, "and there are no individual cases actually on the record of Sharia law being implemented in the courts or in any other state."
"I have never been able to understand why we need this bill," added Boca Raton Democrat Maria Sachs, who said the Legislature was "overstepping our bounds" in passing such a law. She added that Governor Rick Scott has gone "out of his way" to foster business with other countries, and "now we don't want to tell those same investors, when it comes to issues of family law, we're back in the 18th century."
This is the fourth year the bill has been carried in the Senate by Alan Hays (R-Umatilla). He insists the bill will do nothing to impede international trade, and nothing that sends an uninviting message to foreigners.
Abdelaziz with Emerge USA says though the language in the bill is substantially different, her group remains opposed to it.
A similar measure is being sponsored in the Florida House by Representative Alan Combee of Polk County.