Florida Appeals Court defends
decision to impose SHARI’A (ISLAMIC) LAW
A Florida appeals court appears to
have cleared the way for a Hillsborough judge to use Islamic law to decide a
key issue in a lawsuit involving a local mosque.
(H/T Susan K) In a case that has attracted national attention, the 2nd District
Court of Appeal on Friday denied without comment a petition to prevent Judge
Richard Nielsen from invoking Islamic law. The petition, filed by the Islamic
Education Center of Tampa, contested a March ruling by Nielsen announcing his intent
to use “ecclesiastical Islamic law” in the case.
Nielsen limited his use of Islamic law to deciding whether arbitration by an
Islamic scholar mediating a dispute between the mosque and ousted trustees
followed the teachings of the Koran. The arbitration itself is in dispute, with
mosque officials saying it never took place.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of
several men ousted as mosque trustees, a decision that, if upheld, could wrest
control of $2.2 million in mosque coffers. Attorney Paul Thanasides,
representing the mosque, said an appeals court decision without a written
opinion means the court wasn’t addressing the merits of the case.
Thanasides said the U.S. Constitution and Florida law prevent Nielsen from
following Islamic law. On Monday, he filed a motion with the judge asking him
to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. “Florida law is clear that courts
may not decide corporate governance disputes involving religious
organizations,” the motion said.
a lawyer representing four ousted trustees, said the appeals court ruling was a
“big-time” win for his clients and vindication for Nielsen, who does not
comment on pending cases.
basically puts the case back in front of Nielsen, who has a good handle of what
the issues are,” Segal said. He noted the judge could still rule against his
clients if he determines that Islamic law was not, in fact, followed.
“There’s still lots of barriers for us to cross,” Segal said. The case touched
off a storm of criticism against Nielsen earlier this year.
Web commentators have misidentified
the judge as a liberal trying to subvert U.S. law. Nielsen is, in fact, a
conservative Republican appointed to the bench by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
At the time of Nielsen’s original
decision, the political atmosphere was already charged with debate that Islamic
law had gained a toehold in U.S. courts. Even before Nielsen’s ruling, two
Florida lawmakers, Sen. Alan Hays and Rep. Larry Metz, announced legislation to
prevent the use of any foreign legal code being applied in state courts. The
legislation was not adopted by Florida lawmakers.
In May, the Center for Security Policy released a study that evaluated 50
appellate court cases in 23 states involving issues related to Islamic law. The
study noted Islamic law has been “formally recognized” in state courts. The
cases involved mostly Muslim women and children “who were asking American
courts to preserve their rights to equal protection and due process,” said the
center’s president, Frank J. Gaffney Jr. “When our courts then apply sharia law
in the lives of these families, and deny them equal protection, they are
betraying the principles on which America was founded,” he said.