Sharia Hysteria And Unintended Consequences

In their continuing effort to make false distinctions among fundamentalist Islam, Christianity and Judaism, lawmakers here in Florida have crafted a law intended to block the rapid (imaginary) spread of Sharia law in America.  Unfortunately for them, it will also affect the application of Jewish halakha in certain cases (from the Forward):

A Florida state bill targeting a supposed threat from Islamic law may instead end up preventing Orthodox couples from using Jewish religious courts, or batei din, to arbitrate their divorces, according to legal specialists and some Jewish groups.

The Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases bill is considered likely to pass the Senate before the end of the legislative session on March 9. Observers expect Governor Rick Scott to sign the proposal, which has already passed the Florida House of Representatives, soon afterward.The bill is part of a wave of legislation against Sharia, or traditional Islamic law, that has swept the nation in recent years.

Though many of the bills differ, they are largely styled on model legislation drafted by David Yerushalmi, an Orthodox Jew who lives in New York.Florida legislators introduced a similar so-called “foreign law” bill last year. That failed because of concerns from business and Christian leaders that it was too broad and could interfere with commercial and church affairs.

The new, more targeted bill specifically applies only to divorce, child support and custody hearings in family court. It states that arbitration is unenforceable if a tribunal bases its ruling on a “foreign law, legal code or system” that does not grant people the same rights as the Florida state or U.S. Constitutions.

This “Sharia Panic” is nothing more than a thinly veiled religious war between religious fundamentalists.  Right wing Christians and Jews have been working very hard to delegitimize Islam.  These efforts have been largely based on a template created by Yerushalmi, an Orthodox Jewish attorney who doesn’t have the insight necessary to see that what applies to Sharia applies equally to Jewish law.  Then again this is a man who despises democracy, going so far as to condemn it in Israel.  He’s also a racist.

Since the bill could not directly name Sharia (an Oklahoma law that did so was already struck down as unconstitutional) it addresses “foreign laws.”  The result may be that the vagueness and stupidity of this bill could actually pose real problems for couples married in foreign countries.  Moreover, it allows couples to sign a waiver and submit to private agreements, presumably including those arbitrated by religious courts.  And if they’re going to do that anyway, the entire law is superfluous.

As State Rep. Elaine Schwartz commented about supporters of the bill, “I think my colleagues lost their minds.”

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