Brooklyn Attorney Wages War vs. Shariah
State Courts Contemplate Prohibition on Muslim Law and Foreign Legal Systems
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A measure to ban the use of foreign laws in domestic courtrooms is progressing in Florida’s statehouse, one of dozens of similar efforts across the country that critics call an unwarranted campaign driven by fear of Muslims.
Forty such bills are being pursued in 24 states, according to a tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a movement opponents call a response to a made-up threat of Shariah law, the Islamic legal code that covers many areas of life. Backers of the bills say they fill a glaring hole in legal protections for Americans.
One of the most persistent voices on the issue is David Yerushalmi, a Brooklyn lawyer who drafted model legislation on the foreign law issue and who has waged a quiet campaign to ensure Shariah is outlawed in the U.S.
Yerushalmi’s views have made him a lightning rod; he even declines to say where in Florida he lived as a child because he has family that still calls it home and he says he fears for their safety. He disputes characterizations of him as a bigot.
Yerushalmi, who has law offices listed on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn as well as in Arizona, calls Shariah “an offensive foreign law” but he says even if critics are right, and that he and other proponents of such legislation are acting on prejudice, legislatures have nothing to lose by outlawing it.
“If you’re right and Shariah is everything that is good and noble and doesn’t have all the ugly things that we understand it to have,” he said, then such legislation simply will have no effect on the public. He notes people found to have committed adultery can be stoned under Shariah law.
The Florida bills include passages from Yerushalmi’s model legislation, which was written for a group called the American Public Policy Alliance. The leader of that organization, Stephen Gele, says there are egregious court cases that have shown Shariah is a threat in the U.S., with foreign judgments on divorces and child custody allowed to stand.
“It’s probably a small percentage of a court’s docket, but certainly if you’re the woman who lost her child to Pakistan, it’s important to you,” he said, citing a case in which he said a mother lost custody because of a foreign ruling.
“There have been all sorts of wild accusations about what this bill does,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who sponsored the Senate bill in Florida. “This is very clear, very simple: In American courts we need American laws and no other.”
The Florida measure passed the House on Thursday 92-24. It awaits a full vote in the Senate.
If passed, Florida would join three other states — Louisiana, Arizona and Tennessee — in approving legislation curtailing the use of foreign laws. An Oklahoma ballot measure got 70 percent approval, but it goes a step further in specifically mentioning Sharia, the Islamic system of law. A federal court has blocked the measure’s implementation until its constitutionality is determined.
The twin House and Senate bills in Florida make no mention of Shariah law or any other specific foreign system. The language of the legislation, in fact, seems innocuous, outlawing the use of foreign law only when it violates rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and only in certain domestic situations, such as divorces and child custody cases. It does not apply to businesses and says it shouldn’t be construed to prohibit any religious organization from making judgments in “ecclesiastical matters.”
But that’s done little to quiet critics who see such legislation as right-wing fear mongering.
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