TALLAHASSEE — An imam, a rabbi and a pastor walked into Senate President Mike Haridopolos' office Wednesday with two demands: Withdraw the foreign law bill they say targets Muslims, and investigate who is behind anti-Muslim booklets and fliers circulating the Senate.
Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, presiding over a long-running Senate session, did not engage the clergy or the 20 Muslims, Christians and Jews who carpooled from around the state to protest together. The group organized after reading about the anti-Muslim booklets and flyers.
At issue is a booklet Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, delivered to fellow senators called Shari'ah Law: Radical Islam's threat to the U.S. Constitution. Hays, sponsor of SB 1360, said he gave out the booklet to educate his peers and influence the votes on a bill that would void marriage, divorce and custody contracts grounded in foreign law. The measure passed the House and is scheduled for a Senate hearing today.
Hays insists the proposal doesn't target a particular group, but protesters say the intent is obvious.
"This proves this bill is exactly what we've been saying it is. It's intended to target the Muslim community in Florida, and it's intended to target and limit religious freedoms for Muslims," said event organizer Ahmed Bedier, president of United Voices of America.
In Haridopolos' absence, Senate chief of staff Craig Meyer met privately with the clergy and with Bedier.
"The chief of staff did assure us that they will not tolerate hatred, but they also respect freedom of speech," Bedier said in a press conference after the meeting.
Haridopolos told the Times/Herald last week he supports the bill because he believes it will help protect the U.S. Constitution. But Bedier asked that the Senate not take the measure up this session because it's not a pressing issue and the booklets and fliers may influence votes.
"If senators want to debate the bill on its merits, that's fine. However, they should never resort to hatred or hate speech in order to push legislation forward," he said.
Two other fliers, both by groups that don't have websites and aren't registered lobbyists, say American life is "under attack by Islamic and sharia law," and beckons leaders to "save us!" from a society where "women have half the rights of men" and "may be beaten by their husbands."
Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, condemned the fliers as "fear mongering," while the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, put out a press release that says they are "troubled" by the anti-Islam materials.