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Explosive Sharia ruling reignites debate about Muslim law

Two weeks ago, when we wrote about the anti-Sharia legislation sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays and Rep. Larry Metz, neither could name a Florida case where Islamic holy law had pervaded the court.

Now, in a ruling that even he thinks needs some explaining, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen has given them an example. Nielsen decided to allow Islamic law to prevail in a civil dispute over a mosque between Muslims.

"This case," the judge wrote, "will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law."

Technically, say legal experts, that's ok if the parties agreed ahead of time to arbitrate under Islamic law (or any other set of agreed-upon codes) -- as long as the law or codes used for arbitration don't conflict with state or federal statutes or the constitution of Florida or the United States.

But the defendants say Nielsen's ruling is just that -- a violation of the First Amendment protection against official state sanction of religion. They've appealed.

The background on the case is here.

Regardless of the particulars of the case, the blogosphere and anti-Sharia advocates say this proves that the Metz/Hays bill is a must. Nielsen has tried to clarify his comments by issuing a rare opinion Tuesday. But it probably is too late for that. It's politically tough to argue that Sharia isn't working its way into the court system when a judge happens to recognize and virtually condone Sharia.

Maybe the ruling is ok in the court of law. But in the court of public opinion that dominates the Legislature, this is the type of case that can help turn a bill into a law.