By Laila M. Abdelaziz
April 07, 2014
For the fourth year in a row, Florida legislators are facing the “Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases” bill sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, in the upper chamber and Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, in the House.
Commonly known as the “Anti-Foreign Law Bill,” SB 386 and HB 903 aim to prohibit Florida judges from applying foreign laws unless the relevant foreign law guarantees the “same” constitutional protections outlined by the U.S. and Florida constitutions.
Bill sponsors have not been able cite any instances in Florida courts where a litigants’ rights have been denied due to the application of an odious foreign law, affirming that the current standard has always assured a person’s fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges are protected.
According to the Florida Bar International Law Section, the bills are “a significant departure from the applicable standard under Florida.”
The current standard “has a proven track record” and “allows Florida courts to refuse to apply any non-Florida law that would offend Florida’s public policy.”
According to Senate committee analysis, SB 386 and HB 903 are also likely unconstitutional because they offend deeply ingrained constitutional principles, such as the separation of powers, the Contract Clause, and freedom of religion.
Each time Sen. Hays has proposed a version of his “Anti-Foreign Law Bill” it has faced serious criticisms. The legal community and civil rights community have both opposed it for being impractical, dangerous, and discriminatory against minority communities.
The Florida Bar International and Family Law sections both oppose the bill, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, ACLU, NAACP and Emerge USA. Most recently, the Florida Chamber of Commerce testified about its concerns with SB 386.
Civil rights organizations stand on strong ground in their opposition to SB 386 and HB 903, a bill that is discreetly known in Tallahassee as the “Anti-Sharia Bill.”
SB 386 and HB 903 are based on David Yerushalmi’s American Laws for American Courts model legislation, a movement with a self-appointed mission to “protect American citizens’ constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Sharia Law.”
Although bill sponsors deny this legislation is targeting any specific religious group, Sen. Hays was highlighted at the recent Christian Family Coalition’s Day in Tallahassee, an event with anti-Sharia law undertones, as the “sponsor of American Laws for American Courts.”
Groups lobbying Florida legislators in support of SB 386 and HB 903 include the Florida Family Association (listed as an active hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) and the Florida Family Policy Council (an anti-Gay, anti-Muslim group). Groups like the Florida Family Association are lobbying our state legislators to support the “Anti-Foreign Law Bill” because it will “prohibit Sharia and other foreign laws.”
This year, Sen. Hays is also the sponsor of Senate Bill 864, “Instructional Materials for K-12 Public Education,” a bill that aims to localize school textbook selection in an attempt to remove the state from the review and selection process.
Apart from the myriad of education policy issues this change will create, the motivation for this legislation comes from protestors in Volusia County that called for students to tear out their history textbook’s section on Islam. The complaints claimed that the Prentice Hall World History textbook was biased in favour of Islam. Protestors unsuccessfully lobbied the Volusia County school board to change texts, but were ultimately rejected.
Preventing legislation driven by groups with discriminatory agendas from becoming law will uphold our state’s values of diversity and pluralism.
State legislators should stand strong against intolerance and firmly oppose both SB 386 in the Senate and HB 903 in the House once and for all.
Laila Abdelaziz works on legislative issues for Emerge USA, a nonprofit that advocates for civic engagement and related issues for the Muslim Arab and South Asian communities.