by Jerry Gordon (April 2013)
American Law for American Courts (ALAC) is ground breaking legislation seeking to ensure that courts have the requisite instructions to protect individual rights guaranteed in both State and Federal Constitutions. It is non-discriminatory and does not contain an outright ban on foreign law. Nor is Islamic Sharia law even mentioned. It seeks to provide protection to those most vulnerable in family law litigation, women and children. ALAC has been enacted in four states: Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana and Tennessee. It is currently pending in Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas.
Support for ALAC in Florida
In one dramatic moment before a critical approval vote on April 8th in the Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, Sen. Alan Hays, the sponsor of SB 58, application of foreign law in certain cases, read an Iconoclast article by Rabbi Jonathan Hausman, Esq. refuting the allegations of Jewish defense groups. Rabbi Hausman has the requisite qualifications to rebut the false and misleading information conveyed by the Jewish members of the anti-ALAC faction. He is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Stoughton, Massachusetts. He has both undergraduate and graduate education in Middle East studies earned at George Washington University and the American University in Cairo. Hausman holds a law degree from Emory University and is a member of the bars of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of Connecticut. He has rabbinic ordination and communal experience in the understanding the application of Jewish law as well as the sacrilized texts of Islam including Sharia. (See: Halacha, Sharia and the Religious Acceptance of Constitutional Governance). The Jewish doctrine as Hausman pointed out supports conformance to the ultimate supremacy of civil constitutional governance. Liberal news media in Florida like the Tampa Tribune and Miami Herald have been uniformly hostile to ALAC and, in addition, the SunSentinel and Palm Beach Post have rejected rebuttal op eds written by Rabbi Hausman, while permitting false and misleading information to be conveyed by members of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), ACLU and the international and family law sections of the Florida bar association. Sen. Hays’ presentation of Rabbi Hausman’s rebuttal came just before a split 5 to 4 vote that approved SB58 paving the way to the penultimate step to a possible floor vote before the current legislative session ends in Tallahassee in early May. Watch Sen. Hays’ presentation of Rabbi Hausman’s Iconoclast article on the Committee video record at the 64 minute mark.
Rabbi Hausman is not without allies. Christian Family Coalition held a Citizens lobby day in Tallahassee on April 4th bringing 130 members to a day of lobbying activity. The CFC has significant reach across Florida with more than 5,000 members representing over 1,000 churches and upwards of 500,000 “fair minded voters” in the State of Florida. CFC is led by its highly effective executive director, Anthony Verdugo. That CFC Citizen lobby day began with a Prayer Breakfast at which the House and Senate sponsors of ALAC in Florida (HB351/SB58), Rep. Larry Metz and Sen. Hays spoke. The CFC citizen lobbyists were well briefed on the merits of ALAC and took one page information sheets to leave behind with Senators and Representatives they approached. Their effectiveness in getting the message across in more than 41 individual encounters with members of the Florida legislature was reflected in obtaining 17 co-sponsors of ALAC. Similarly, members of the Vidal group of retired senior military officers in Florida have made appearances at House and Senate hearings on ALAC conveying their own experience with foreign laws they encountered in their distinguished military careers.
The Cabal working against ALAC
In Tallahassee, a cabal composed of Jewish defense organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), International and Family Law sections of the State Bar Association have formed an alliance seeking to defeat ALAC in Florida. Representatives of these groups have been in the forefront opposing ALAC at every House and Senate hearing. Their appearances at these hearings have been followed by Muslim advocacy groups like Emerge- USA and United Voices for America. The Jewish and International and Family Law representatives of the Florida bar association are abetting foreign law and doctrine that seeks to violate US Constitutional individual rights. Much of the information that these members of the anti-ALAC cabal convey in op eds in media and legislative testimony are false and misleading.
Case in point: the cabal argument that ALAC threatens Jewish Domestic Law. The ADL and NCJW in Florida hearings on Senate Bill 58, Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases, suggest that ALAC threatens Jewish law on matters of divorce and would have a chilling effect on Israel US relations and other foreign trade matters.
Why are Jewish Defense Groups Opposing ALAC?
The Jewish contingent of the anti-ALAC cabal, the ADL and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) have been misguided in furthering their opposition when the legislation is clearly one that defends the civil rights of their own co-religionists and fellow citizens. The ADL has become obsessed with civil rights of others, especially Muslims, and the dangers of “Christianizing America.” That has been the mantra of the venerable leader of the ADL, Abe Foxman, and his handpicked successor Deborah Lauter, civil rights counsel for the ADL. Foxman conveyed the Christianizing threat in speeches and books as far back as 2004. See his book, Never Again! The New Antisemitism. While he chose for limited reasons to oppose the controversial Mosque in lower Manhattan, the ADL established the Interfaith Committee on Mosques (ICOM) in 2010. Deborah Lauter, ADL’s civil rights director joined with the US Department of Justice in filing an amicus brief in opposition during the controversial Tennessee Chancery Court litigation involving expansion of the Islamic Center of Mufreesboro (ICM). Lauter, is one of those who maintained that the “political preferences” of an ICM board member, Mosaad Rawash who supported the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas were “irrelevant.”
David Barkey, religious freedom counsel of the ADL, during the 2012 session hearings on ALAC found himself in league with the former executive director of the Tampa CAIR chapter, Ahmed Bedier, founder of front group United Voices for America and the Florida Muslim Capitol Day. Bedier was seen on a United West video extolling the ADL’s opposition to ALAC.
The NCJW is headed by Nancy K. Kaufman, former head of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council. The NCJW according to a Huffington Post profile of Ms. Kaufman is “a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.” By not supporting ALAC Ms. Kaufman appears to be contradicting the mission of her organization.
Evidence of why ALAC is needed
So why is ALAC needed in Florida and elsewhere? Let’s look at some evidence.
The Washington, DC–based Center for Security Policy in a 2011 report, Shariah Law and American Courts: An Assessment of State Appellate Court Cases, found 50 cases involving Sharia law in more than 23 states. At the trial court level 15 cases found Sharia to be applicable; at the Appellate Court Level, 12. Four of those cases were in Florida. Let’s look at some illustrative examples.
New Jersey: In the Matter of S.D. (wife) and M.J.R. (husband) N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2010. A trial court refused to issue a restraining order brought against a husband by his wife to prevent him from engaging in non-consensual sex after physically abusing her. Both husband and wife were Moroccan nationals and Muslims residing in New Jersey. The trial court affirmed the husband’s religious right to non-consensual sex precluding any criminal intent. The Superior Court ruled against the trial court stating that it erroneously allowed the husband’s religious beliefs excusing him from the New Jersey Criminal code permitting him to engage in non-consensual sex.
New Jersey does not have a version of ALAC.
Tennessee: In a 2007 divorce case Maher Ghawji v Rosine Ghawji, a Syrian born Muslim physician and a French Christian wife, Judge Donna Fields of the Shelby County Circuit Court of Memphis, Tennessee in her Final Decree of Absolute Divorce wrote: “Wife has seriously alienated the children from Husband with unproven and baseless accusations” and decreed that Maher Ghawji would have the final say over the religious upbringing of the couple’s two children, Louis, then 19, and KK, 16 – thus ensuring that they would be raised Muslim at least until they attained majority. Both boys had been raised as Christians. In Judge Fields’ final ruling in February 2007, she declared: “Those children will have to follow the Muslim religion.” She ordered them to accompany their father on the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca – which is only open to Muslims. The boys opted to stay with their mother.
Tennessee enacted ALAC in 2011.
Kansas: In Kansas within weeks of ALAC being enacted, it was applied in a case involving a Sharia law dowry. The judge said we don't apply foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines if someone's fundamental Constitutional rights will be violated. That was exactly what happened in this case and as a result, it was thrown out.
Kansas enacted ALAC in 2012.
Florida: A graphic example is a case not included in the CSP study of Florida cases, that of Rifqa Bary.
Four years ago, a petit teenager seeking religious freedom huddled with her guardian ad litem in an Orlando Circuit Courtroom. Presiding Judge Daniel Dawson was in a quandary over whether he had jurisdiction despite concerns for her safety. Her name was Rifqa Bary. A native of Sri Lanka, she was seeking a basic freedom, the right to choose her faith by converting from Islam to Christianity. A right guaranteed under the State of Florida and US Constitutions, as well as Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Miss Bary had run away from her home in Columbus, Ohio seeking sanctuary in Florida. Her parents had demanded access to her and that she return to their belief community for counseling. This despite the fact that they and their daughter were illegal immigrants in this country. Miss Bary’s life was threatened in her country of origin because of her change in faith. She had been physically abused in her home. She was being treated for uterine cancer. Despite all of these daunting vicissitudes Miss Bary would complete her high school studies near the top of her class. Yet, the Florida Circuit Court did not believe it had the authority to rule in the matter except to remand Ms. Bary to the custody of the Juvenile Court in Franklin County, Ohio.
In an Iconoclast post we noted the challenging circumstances and the innovative solution propounded by Bary’s legal team at Ohio hearings in November 2009:
The petition before the court is for dependency, because Rifqa fears being sent home to her family. Her fears reflect a history of abuse, of being taken back to Sri Lanka and the distinct possibility of her being fatally punished under Sharia law for her apostasy as a Muslim who converted to Christianity. If the dependency petition filing is approved then Rifqa would become a ward (dependent) of the State of Ohio. She would then be automatically eligible for a fast track to obtain a Green Card under US immigration rules, regardless of the immigration status of her parents.
Her parents, Mohammed and Aysha have stayed beyond the limits of their 2005 Visa. They are here illegally under US immigration rules. Further, they have not complied with several court orders in Florida to produce their visas and passports. These facts – and not the family’s tax problems – are evidence of her parents' unlawful behavior. If anything her parents’ tax problems make it more likely they would return immediately to Sri Lanka if the Ohio court ordered Rifqa returned. She is obviously afraid of being taken back there. Her parents therefore do not fear a US ICE order to leave America.
In August 2010, the Franklin County, Ohio Juvenile Court Judge Mary Goodrich ruled in favor of Ms. Bary’s dependency. A local Ohio news report cited Judge Goodrich’s stipulation:
“It’s not in the girl’s best interest to return her to her native Sri Lanka. Bary is (also) an illegal immigrant. The ruling allows her attorneys to file for a special immigration status to allow her to stay in the U.S. while she continues medical treatment following recent surgery for uterine cancer.”
Noted author, psychoanalyst and feminist Phyllis Chesler wrote this about the Franklin County Ohio Juvenile Court decision:
Thus, this case shows America at its best: A system that is capable of non-racism, a system that bears no hatred towards foreign aliens. This case is about legally rescuing a juvenile from serious harm at home and also honoring a very young girl’s right, no matter what her skin color or immigration status might be, to practice the religion of her choice.
The Rifqa Bary matter was not resolved under Florida family law. It clearly demonstrates why SB58 is needed to protect the individual rights of parties in such litigation.
There are those who argue that Florida SB58 – application of foreign law in certain cases – is unnecessary and duplicative of existing laws. Further, they suggest that the judiciary has the requisite knowledge to rule in such complicated family law and custody matters. We have heard arguments presented by Florida family and international law experts and Senators in prior hearings on SB58 that Florida Courts should recognize foreign customs regarding family law. That the failure to do so would hamper international trade in Florida. Muslim advocacy witnesses from Emerge USA at hearings on SB58 have even presented novel theories that English common law, exempted under Title 2 of SB58, discriminated against persons by virtue their faiths, sex or race. According to Rabbi Hausman these claims are false. See: Hausman: Jewish Domestic Law is Not Threatened by American Law for American Courts.
Rabbi Jonathan Hausman noted why SB58 is the answer:
The United States has a Constitution under which the government functions, and the Bill of Rights which protects basic human rights and freedoms – rights derived from the Almighty according to the secular foundational documents of these United States – freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of assembly. The key question in this debate is; does foreign law as a legal system act in consonance with the Constitutional legal principles so cherished by and supported by over two centuries of American case law or does it stand for a diminution of the rights of many segments of our population? SB58 is the answer to this question. It is one of the surest methods to protect our Constitutional legal system.
Rifqa Bary was guaranteed those rights in an Ohio Courtroom, not in Florida where her matter originated. Her case amply demonstrates why SB58 should be enacted into Florida Law.
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