For the second straight year, the Florida House approved legislation Thursday to prohibit foreign laws from shaping family court rulings or civil contracts — a move condemned by Muslim groups that lobbied lawmakers earlier this week.
The measure (CS/HB 351) has languished in the Senate, where it died last year. But it sparked heated debate on the House floor before winning approval 79-39.
“This is a proposal by somebody who is nothing more than a bigot,” Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said of Arizona lawyer David Yerushalmi, founder of an organization called the Society of Americans for National Excellence.
“It’s an anti-Muslim law…. This is very poor public policy,” Waldman said.
Yerushalmi has been advocating the legislation nationwide. It would prohibit Florida courts from signing off on family law agreements or civil contracts that include provisions based on such religious codes as Jewish Halakha or Islamic Shariah.
Dozens of Muslim activists came to the Capitol earlier this week to urge lawmakers to defeat the legislation, which some see as intruding on the ability of judges to make allowances in child-custody or divorce proceedings based on cultural considerations.
Supporters, however, said the measure was designed only to bolster the role of the federal and state constitutions in guiding legal decisions.
“There is nobody here out to get anybody,” said Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, told House members, “There are four things I come here to protect: faith, family, freedom and opportunity. This legislation is not about religious freedom. If it was, I’d be on the other side.”
Gov. Rick Scott hailed the House’s move.
“In Florida, we have many religions and cultures that contribute to the rich diversity of our great state,” Scott said.
“As Americans, we have the expressed right to freely practice our religion, and I applaud the Florida House for passing HB 351 that would make clear the constitutional rights of our citizens will be protected.”