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Florida Judge Applies Islamic Law

Samara Greenberg

A Florida judge is under fire this week for his controversial decision to apply Islamic law instead of state or federal statutes in determining whether an arbitration award was correct. The case in question involves former trustees of a Tampa mosque, the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, who are suing because they claim they were unfairly removed as trustees.

On March 3, Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen ordered the case to “proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law.” Pursuant to the Quran, Nielsen wrote, “Islamic brothers should attempt to resolve a dispute among themselves. If Islamic brothers are unable to do so, they can agree to present the dispute to the greater community of Islamic brothers within the mosque or the Muslim community for resolution,” he said.

The two parties reportedly previously agreed to use Islamic law to resolve any potential differences through arbitration.

But the mosque’s attorney Paul Thanasides last week appealed Nielsen’s decision, arguing that religion has no place in a secular court. “The mosque believes wholeheartedly in the Quran and its teachings,” Thanasides said. “They certainly follow Islamic law in connection with their spiritual endeavors. But with respect to secular endeavors, they believe Florida law should apply in Florida courts.”

The judge’s ruling comes as lawmakers around the country, including in Florida, are increasingly proposing legislation that would ban the use of foreign law, including Sharia, in U.S. courts. While those lawmakers have faced some backlash, foreign or religious law should never trump U.S. secular law inside American court houses.