In the final days of Florida's legislative session, some conservative blogs claimed that they had unearthed the "real" war on women — a war being waged by Democrats.
"Florida Democrats just voted to impose Sharia law on women," read one headline on WesternJournalism.com, a blogging platform for "conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family writers."
The story explained: "Anyone who isn't certain that Democrats are devoted to destroying America need only take a look at their despicable conduct in the Florida Senate. In a vote that never should have had to be taken, every single Democrat voted to force Sharia law on the people of Florida. By doing so, they placed women and children in very real danger. The vote was 24 votes for America and 14 votes for al-Qaida and the Taliban cast by loathsome Democrats."
It's important to note right off that claims that "Florida Democrats just voted to impose Sharia law on women" are wrong on many levels — the first of which is that Democratic lawmakers didn't vote affirmatively for doing any of those things. They voted against a bill that would have barred the use of foreign laws in some contexts, something far more limited.
Sharia law is a wide-ranging set of rules that govern aspects of Islamic life, including religious practice, daily living, crime and financial dealings. Muslims differ on its interpretation.
At root of the Florida issue is a dispute between a Tampa Islamic center and some of its ousted trustees. In making a ruling on the case in March 2011, a circuit judge cited Islamic law, sparking outcry from conservatives. That month, two Republican state lawmakers, Sen. Alan Hays and Rep. Larry Metz, announced they would push for a bill to ban foreign law in Florida courts.
After several failed efforts, the bill that passed this year — SB 386, "Application of Foreign Law in Courts" — was watered down compared with previous versions.
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 legislation allows a judge to agree to apply foreign law as long as it doesn't contradict public policy in the United States. 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.
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 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."
The Senate approved the bill 24-14, with all the votes in opposition coming from Democrats. The House approved the bill 78-40, with a majority of Democrats voting "no."
A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott said he will review the bill.
Senate Democrats did vote against a bill that prohibits judges from applying foreign law in family-law cases if it contradicts United States public policy. In reality, though, the bill essentially codifies existing practice. The bill didn't single out Sharia law, and the U.S. Constitution still applies.
It's ridiculous — beyond ridiculous, really — to suggest that Senate Democrats forced on women such elements of Sharia law as burqa-wearing and stoning to death. We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.