Florida Judge Ruled Correctly That Islamic Law Must Be Used

Just this past week there was a media frenzy sparking fear across the nation with headlines like, “Florida Judge Orders Use of Sharia Law!”  The case in question involves former trustees of a local Tampa mosque, the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, who are suing because they claim they were unfairly removed as trustees.  The Judge stated in his order, “This case will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law…pursuant to the Qur’an…”

The enemies of Liberty know the power of fear, otherwise the warning attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “Those who trade Liberty for security deserve neither Liberty nor security” would have very little meaning.  But I fear, that is exactly what we are about to do as a nation, ignore the warnings of our Founding Fathers and trade Liberty for security based upon fear.

In order to properly understand what happened in that Florida courtroom this week, we must make a distinction.  There is a difference between First Amendment religious liberty and criminal acts unconstitutionally sanctioned under the guise of religious liberty.  Our Founders, moved home and family, sacrificed honor and fortune, bled and died for religious liberty.  It was so important to our Founders that when proposing the ratification of the Constitution, several states, including Virginia, refused to ratify if there were not greater protections for religious liberty.  The Virginia Baptist General Convention made the statement:

 “Whether the new Federal Constitution, which had now lately made its appearance in public, made sufficient provision for the secure enjoyment of religious liberty; on which it was agreed unanimously that, in the opinion of the General Committee, it did not.”

They understood that every man has to give an account for himself to God one day, therefore every man should be free to serve God according to the dictates of his own conscience; that it is repugnant to the spirit of the gospel for the government to proceed in matters of religion.  They believed that God needed no such compulsive measures from the government and for government to engage in the regulation of church activity would be the destruction of religious liberty.  In a Letter from a Federal Farmer  IV the author, looking forward to a day when our nation would grow into a great country said:

“It is true, we are not disposed to differ much, at present, about religion; but when we are making a constitution, it is to be hoped, for ages and millions yet unborn, why not establish the free exercise of religion, as a part of the national compact.”

As if there were any question as to the Founders’ intent regarding true religious liberty, John Leland, arguably the founder of our First Amendment, stated that “all should be equally free [in religious matters], Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Our Founders believed that government regulating the affairs of the churches would be the death of religious liberty for all and they were willing to forgo the entire Constitutional experiment without proper protection from it.  Our courts have adopted that principle in the legal doctrine of “judicial abstinence”.

According to the well-founded legal doctrine of judicial abstention, “matters of calling a pastor, excluding members from a church, electing church officers and the conduct of other routine church business is purely ecclesiastical, that the jurisdiction of the church as to such matters is final and that the civil courts have consistently declined to assume jurisdiction of them.” Epperson v. Myers, 58 So.2d 150, 151 (Fla. 1952).

Our courts are obliged by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to defer to internal church decisions in matters of church government.  The Supreme Court of the United States recognizes that “[e]xcessive entanglement with religion occurs when the courts begin to review and interpret a church’s constitution, laws, and regulations.”  Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 US 602 (1971).

We should commend Judge Richard Nielsen for his courage to stand up for this TRUE AND PROPER application of separation of church and state in a time when he had to know it would bring great fear and controversy.  He was acting as a true constitutional conservative and patriot, supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Florida.

Judge Nielson had to understand that for the court to become involved in the ecclesiastical affairs church government would open a precedent that has thus far never existed.  It would eliminate EVERY church’s ability to govern itself according to the dictates of its religious beliefs.  What would that mean for Christians?  It would mean that churches could no longer discriminate on the basis of doctrinal beliefs; the acceptance of homosexuality even if against religious beliefs, the requirement of non discrimination for pastoral positions even if against religious beliefs, the compulsion of teaching even if against religious beliefs…the list is endless.

A very important decision was written in 1871 by the Supreme Court of the United States in Watson v. Jones, 80 US (13 Wall), 679, 727 (1871):

“The law knows no heresy, and committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect.  The right to organize voluntary religious associations to assist in the expression and dissemination of any religious doctrine, and to create tribunals for the decision of controverted questions of faith within the association, and for the ecclesiastical government of all the individual members, congregations, and officers within the general association, is unquestioned.  All who united themselves to such a body do so with the implied consent to this government, and are bound to submit to it.  But it would be a vain consent and would lead to the total subversion of such religious bodies, if any one aggrieved by one of their decisions could appeal to the secular courts and have them reversed.”

So before we react in fear that will ultimately end the religious liberty that we ALL enjoy, we must become steeped in history and fact.  History teaches that “all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians” and when government engages in the ecclesiastical affairs of an assembly, religious liberty for all is dead.  The fact is this legal dispute was over a decision by the mosque leaders regarding issues of church governance, a purely ecclesiastical matter.

Judge Neilson’s court ruling is NOT a permission in the law to stone your children, beat your wife, or murder your daughter because she is marrying outside the faith.  These are afforded no more affording constitutional protection than someone bombing an abortion clinic in the name of Christ.  These are CRIMINAL acts and NOT ecclesiastical governance.  If this distinction is not made, then a disingenuous lawyer or an activist judge could unconstitutionally use this ruling to allow a criminal act, as the court did in New Jersey in applying Sharia Law to allow a man to rape his wife.  Fortunately, the New Jersey ruling was overturned, and our Constitution ruled the day.  We need to be watchful so that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  We must be steeped in history and in fact so that we don’t undo the very document by which we are protected.

I am not willing to trade liberty for any fear.  I am not willing to trade the ability for my church to govern according to the dictates of my conscience due to a fear of foreign Islamic invasion.  If we allow fear to dictate, the enemies of Liberty have succeeded and tyranny is already established.