TALLAHASSEE — A bill to keep foreign laws out of Florida courtrooms advanced in the Florida House Wednesday after a series of Democrats questioned whether it is even necessary.
The bill has stirred controversy among Muslim , Jewish and civil liberties group that argue it could interfere with family relationships based on foreign jurisdictions, such as the case of an American citizen involved in a custody dispute with a spouse from another country.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, said the bill is not aimed at any particular country or religion. It is meant to apply, he said, in cases involving countries that have incorporated religious law into their national laws.
He didn’t specify what countries or cultures that could be.
“What concern do you have regarding Sharia law?” asked Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat who questioned Metz extensively before the bill was rolled over for a final vote, which is expected Thursday.
Metz said opponents of his bill have come from a variety of perspectives. Recent commentaries opposing the bill have been published by rabbis, imams and representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“That just illustrates the point the bill is neutral in language,” he said.
He said his bill focuses on family law rather than other fields because it is most likely to involve individuals acting on their own. In areas such as business law, he said, companies from two different countries – the U.S. and Germany for example – might agree to operate under the legal provisions of the foreign country.
Family disputes, he said, are more likely to involve parties – and judges – with less experience in reconciling foreign laws with those in the United States.
“I think it’s when there’s the most danger of having a constitutionally offensive ruling would be,” Metz said.
Under questioning by Waldman and other Democrats, Metz acknowledged there have been no cases in Florida courts where applying a foreign-based law may have violated the principles of the U.S. Constitution. The point of his bill, he said, was to such cases before they cropped up.
“We should be protecting the Constitution pro-actively,” he said. “It’s a preventative measure I’m going forward with.”
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