Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whom President-elect Donald Trump will reportedly name as his national security adviser, claimed in a speech to an anti-Muslim group this summer that Democrats in Florida had voted “to allow Sharia law to be used” in the state’s judicial system, adding that he was shocked that the Democrats who voted to do so had names like “John” and “Mike” and not “Mohammed.”
Every Democrat in Florida’s senate, Flynn told a Dallas gathering of ACT for America in August, had “voted yes to allow Sharia law to be used in the state of Florida’s judicial system.”
He went on to express disbelief that senators with names like “John” had voted this way, saying “maybe that’s racist thinking that way, but I don’t think it is”:
I mean, unbelievable. Unbelievable. I mean, it’s like they all voted. And there’s no—I looked at the names, so I got the whole roster of that state to see, well, maybe there’s like, you know, Mohammed bin Salam is one of the state senators, and so, okay, it wouldn’t surprise me—and maybe that’s racist thinking that way, but I don’t think it is. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t. It was like John Smith and Mike Flynn. And I’m thinking, God, do these people not understand what Sharia law is, what it does to, you know, these beautiful women that are here tonight? You’re a piece of property!
The 2014 vote that Flynn was apparently referring to was on one of a rash of laws prohibiting the use of “foreign law” in U.S. courts that have been promoted by anti-Muslim groups in recent years in an attempt to stir up fear of creeping Sharia in America. Democrats in the state senate voted against that bill.
Politifact wrote at the time that the bill in question didn’t actually change the existing law, which allowed for “a judge to agree to apply foreign law as long as it doesn’t contradict public policy in the U.S.” Instead, as one state legislator said, it was “a solution in search of a problem”:
The bill doesn’t specifically mention Sharia law, and it doesn’t outright ban the use of Sharia law, said Eduardo Palmer, a Coral Gables lawyer who serves on the legislative committee of the Florida Bar’s international law section. But much of the discussion centered on Sharia law.
The bill only applies to family-law cases, including divorce, child support and child custody. It doesn’t apply to other areas of law, such as corporate matters.
The bill states “A court may not enforce: (a) A choice of law provision in a contract selecting the law of a foreign country which contravenes the strong public policy of this state or that is unjust or unreasonable. … The purpose of this section is to codify existing case law, and that intent should guide the interpretation of this section.”
The law allows a judge to agree to apply foreign law as long as it doesn’t contradict public policy in the U.S. For example, if a couple signed a prenuptial agreement in Argentina and later gets a divorce in Florida, a Miami judge could decide to apply Argentina’s law in the divorce case here, Palmer said. But if a foreign law violated our public policy in the United States about child labor rules, for example, then a judge could reject it.
“That is the universal standard that most civilized countries adhere to,” Palmer said.
In reality, the bill doesn’t change existing law, which already allowed judges such discretion.
An earlier version would have been much more aggressive — it would have raised the standards before a judge could have allowed the use of foreign law. A compromise essentially codified existing law.
The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which tracks and counters anti-Islamic attacks, and Florida’s Anti-Defamation League, a group that fights anti-Semitism, both lobbied against the bill.
Legislators who voted against the bill argued that it was unnecessary and was tantamount to an attack on Muslims.
Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, told the House “This bill, this proposal, stems directly from a hatred of Muslims. It’s caught on across the country and many other state legislatures have dealt with this, and I find it reprehensible.”
Waldman called the bill “a solution in search of a problem.”
In the same ACT for America speech, Flynn called Islam a “cancer” and “a political ideology” that “definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion.”