Islamic law trumps state and federal statutes in a dispute between members of a Tampa, Fla., mosque fighting over $2.2 million in Florida tax dollars paid to the religious group, Circuit Court Judge Richard Nielsen said in an opinion defending his order to let case precede under religious law.
The defense doesn’t wash with Frank Gaffney Jr., who counters that any judge who would issue such an order “is unfit to serve on any bench in this country.”
Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, told Newsmax: “Any judge who would apply Shariah in an American courtroom — especially against the express wishes of Muslims seeking due process under laws promulgated pursuant to the U.S. Constitution — is certainly ignorant of the true, unconstitutional character of ‘Islamic ecclesiastical law.’”
Gaffney’s comments reflect a concern raised throughout the country about the possibility that Islamic law could slip into U.S. law, which in turn has prompted proposed laws against that.
The Florida lawsuit, filed in 2008, concerns, among other things, $2.2 million in state money the Islamic Education Center of Tampa received in an eminent domain settlement when some of its land was used in a road project. Shortly before the case was to go to trial, those who brought the suit sought to have the court enforce an arbitrator’s award reached under Islamic law.
The judge said in a March 3 ruling that he would decide whether the teachings of the Quran were followed properly in the arbitration.
Defending his earlier ruling, Nielsen wrote in his March 22 opinion that it is settled doctrine that religious law can be used is certain disputes between members of a faith.
“Decisional case law both in Florida and the United States Supreme Court tells us that ecclesiastical law controls certain relations between members of a religious organization, whether a church, synagogue, temple or mosque,” he wrote.
He cited a 1992 Florida ruling that said the U.S. Constitution “permits hierarchical religious organizations to establish their own rules and regulations for internal discipline and governance and to create tribunals for adjudicating disputes over these matters.”
The judge concluded that, “as to the question of enforceability of the arbitrator’s award, the case should proceed under ecclesiastical Islamic law.”
In Florida, state Sen. Alan Hays and Rep. Larry Metz, both Republicans, have proposed bills to prevent Islamic law, or any foreign legal code, from being applied in state courts.
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