Earlier this month, the Florida House passed a bill which, although ostensibly targeted at the imaginary problem of Florida courts relying on religious or foreign law in their decisions, is widely viewed as an attack on the even more imaginary problem of courts replacing American law with Islamic law. Although it initially appeared likely to pass the state senate as well, the bill was abruptly pulled from the senate’s calendar after its sponsors eliminated any doubt of their Islamophobic intentions:
[Sen. Alan] Hays’ bill became ensnared in a late-breaking political controversy when proponents distributed fliers and a pamphlet decrying the alleged intrusion of Islamic law into America’s courts. . . . A delegation of Muslim and other religious leaders met with [Senate President Mike] Haridopolos’ chief of staff earlier in the week to demand that Hays’ measure be postponed pending an investigation of the fliers.
Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, made no public statement about the controversy, but refused to call the bill for a vote in the waning hours of the 2012 session Friday.
Had Haridopolos not pulled the bill, it is almost certain that it would have been struck down in court. It is generally true that laws which apply equally to the faithful and the non-faithful alike do not offend the Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause. Thus, the law was no doubt drafted as a neutral attack on all foreign legal sources — rather than a narrow attack on Islam or Shariah law in particular — in an attempt to bring it within this constitutional rule.
Nevertheless, as the Supreme Court held in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, the Constitution does forbid laws that “regulate or prohibit conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.” Thus, when the Florida bill’s chief sponsor started distributing flyers entitled “Shari’ah Law: Radical Islam’s threat to the U.S. Constitution” in order to drum up support for the bill, he let the cat out of the bag that the sole purpose of the bill was to regulate people’s religious conduct — and doomed the law in an inevitable federal lawsuit.
Ironically, conservative state lawmakers are pushing these anti-Muslim bills at the same time that conservatives in Congress — including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) — insist that the Constitution bans the Obama Administration’s contraceptive access regulations because some religious groups object to them. They are wrong because there is no evidence that the contraceptive rules have anything to do with singling out a particular faith for ill-treatment. Nevertheless, the fact remains that, if Boehner truly believes that religious leaders should have a veto power over the law, then he should be the first one to condemn laws singling out Islam.