Mark Schlakman: No need for foreign-law bill
Published: Monday, April 15, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 15, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.
As the Florida Legislature enters the final weeks of the 2013 regular legislative session it seemingly is poised to pass SB 58, a bill entitled Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases. This legislation is controversial on many grounds, especially given its original incarnation as an anti-Sharia law bill, similar to at least 35 bills introduced in 15 other states around the country.
Simply put, this kind of legislation runs afoul of basic tenets of constitutional law and overriding principles of American jurisprudence. Moreover, its sponsors haven't demonstrated any tangible need for it.
The American Bar Association generally opposes such legislation because it's "duplicative of safeguards that are already enshrined in federal and state law … Initiatives that target an entire religion or stigmatize an entire religious community, such as those explicitly aimed at 'Sharia law' are inconsistent with some of the core principles and ideals of American jurisprudence."
At best, SB 58 is unnecessary legislation that civil libertarians, conservatives and liberals share cause to oppose.
Its history is curious and its potential impact is wide ranging.
Defeated in prior legislative sessions, its sponsors recharacterized it presumably to blunt criticism by attempting to distance it from the original language that overtly targeted Sharia which to Muslims is what Halacha is to Jews and Cannon is to Catholics. The current version makes no such direct reference and instead targets “foreign law.” The corresponding staff analysis warns legislators it may be fundamentally flawed nonetheless.
At the most rudimentary level, our law is derived largely from English common law. If SB 58 were to become law in Florida, the resulting confusion would likely precipitate a flood of litigation, Florida lawyers being the principal beneficiaries.
For instance, "this could prohibit Florida courts from recognizing divorces of Jews under Israeli law," advised David Barkey, with the Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people.”
Barkey, Carlos Osorio with the International Law Section of The Florida Bar, and Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, also observed in a column they co-authored for the Sun Sentinel the bill “threatens to derail Florida's role as an international trade hub by complicating and destabilizing the personal and commercial lives of foreign nationals sent here from such important partners as Israel, Latin America and elsewhere.”
The potential impact upon trade and economic development should not be underestimated.
Joel Hunter, senior pastor at Northland Church in Orlando, asserted “Senate Bill 58 will do more harm than good if enacted. Its effect will be to increase bias rather than protection. It seems to me to be a cure without a disease. Existing law and judicial precedent have proved sufficient to deal with any concerns addressed by this proposed law … As a conservative evangelical Christian it is unusual for me to side with the ACLU but I think objecting to unnecessary law is a conservative principle as well as a libertarian one.”
When SB 58 was heard recently in the Senate's Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, its most recent stop, Sen. Alan Hays (R), the bill's sponsor whose district includes parts of Lake, Marion, Orange and Sumter counties, read portions of a letter the he received from Rabbi Jonathan Hausman of the Ahavath Torah Congregation in Stoughton, Mass., during his closing remarks for purposes of attempting to explain why the bill should be passed as well as to refute the arguments of its diverse opposition.
For perspective, Rabbi Hausman aligns with Dutch politician Geert Wilders who, among other things, reportedly alleges that the Muslim Prophet Mohammed engaged in an array of vile acts including pedophilia and asserts that constructing a mosque in the Netherlands should be illegal.
Closer to home, Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center infamy in Gainesville reportedly supports Hays' bill. Jones staged “International Burn a Quran Day” in late 2010 and publicly burned a Quran in early 2011 despite efforts by senior Obama administration officials to dissuade, to which Afghan President Hamid Karzai attributed the deaths of numerous Afghans who lost their lives during violent protests allegedly in response to that Quran burning. Jones also helped promote a low budget film that objectified the Prophet Mohammed which sparked protests around the world last year.
According to the Washington Times, Jones' group plans to burn 2,998 Qurans on 9/11/2013 to “send Islam a very clear warning that they will not get their foothold in the American Constitution.”
We respectfully urge legislative leadership to take whatever steps that may be necessary to ensure, in consultation with the governor, that SB 58 does not become law in Florida.
Mark Schlakman, senior program director of FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, wrote this piece with Parvez Ahmed, associate professor of finance at the Coggin College of Business at the University of North Florida, and Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel in Tallahassee.