Florida Republican’s anti-Sharia bill would ban courts from recognizing Jewish divorces

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 13:33 EDT
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A Jewish wedding. ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com.
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A bill by Florida state Sen. Alan Hays (R) that narrowly cleared a key Senate committee on Monday night, written with the intent of preventing U.S. courts from recognizing Islamic Sharia law, would mostly just cause serious problems for Jews trying to get courts to enforce divorce settlements.

It’s not likely a consequence Hays intended, but groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Jewish Women warned in testimony ahead of the vote that it would interfere with Jewish divorce settlements, making them technically invalid in the eyes of the law.

“This legislation… could undermine Florida’s strong reputation and track record as a center for trade with Israel and other nations” and “serve as an incentive for them to take their business elsewhere,” an attorney for the Florida Anti-Defamation League told the committee, according to The Palm Beach Post.

Nevertheless, SB 58 was passed last night by a surprise 5-4 vote from members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. It now moves to the Rules committee. A similar version of the bill passed the House during the last session, but failed to make it out of a Senate committee.

Opponents of the bill were surprised when, during the roll call, Sen. Geraldine F. Thompson (D) suddenly crossed over and joined Republicans voting in favor. She later told The Tampa Bay Times that her opinion was swayed by testimony in favor that emphasized the law’s provisions would only be applied in cases where foreign or religious laws conflict with U.S. law.

The author of the latest bill explained in March, talking to an activist with the progressive group Florida Watch, that even though he couldn’t think of any examples of U.S. courts abiding by Sharia law instead of U.S. law, his legislation is akin to a vaccination against a disease. SB 58 also enjoys the enthusiastic support of Florida evangelicals and anti-abortion groups, who worry that Islamic traditions may be held up as law by U.S. courts.

However, many non-Orthodox Jews already get secular divorces, so the proposal would mostly interfere with the use of Jewish religious courts for divorce arbitration — a process which, under Orthodox law, can be completely shut down if the man refuses to grant his wife’s freedom to marry another. About 4,000 Orthodox families live in Florida, according to The Jewish Daily Forward.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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