This morning I woke up to news about a Tampa, Florida judge ordering that Sharia law be used to arbitrate a dispute between a Mosque and ex-trustees of the Mosque who believe they were wrongfully ousted in 2002. As many of you know, there has been a great deal of animosity towards the American-Muslim population, to the point of nearly 20 states proposing ‘anti-sharia’ laws, one of which makes it a felony to wash your feet per Islamic ablution. (Not to mention the King hearings).
So now, Judge Richard Nielsen in Florida has ruled that these two parties shall use Islamic Law for their arbitration. ‘Say what?! On what grounds?!’ Does Richard Nielsen have some sort of secret Islamic agenda? Not likely. The fact of the matter is, it was contractually agreed to by the parties upon drafting and execution of their contract. All Judge Nielsen is doing is enforcing the terms of the contract. Arbitration clauses in contracts are common and may consist of whatever the parties agree to. To deny enforcement of the clause would deny the other parties’ benefit of the bargain. Unless there are grounds for striking the clause, such as fraud, duress, illegality or other grounds used by courts, a judge can not just come in and arbitrarily to decide what clauses are proper or not. I really have a problem with the opening line of the article by the St. Petersburg Times that I cited above:
The question of what law applies in any Florida courtroom usually comes down to two choices: federal or state.
This is an inaccurate statement of law, particularly in this case in which a contract is involved. By framing the question of law issue in this matter, the author of the article already set up the Judge’s decision as against the norms of adjudication. The whole purpose of a contract is for parties to set for themselves THEIR OWN rules that they create and bind themselves to. This is not a matter of question of what law applies; this is is also a contract matter. It is common for arbitration clauses to be whatever the parties want them to be.
Those who say that the parties are subject to the country’s law, did they stop to look at the Florida Arbitration code, 682.02 (2009), Fla. Stat., which states:
Two or more parties may agree in writing to submit to arbitration any controversy existing between them at the time of the agreement, or they may include in a written contract a provision for the settlement by arbitration of any controversy thereafter arising between them relating to such contract […] Such agreement or provision shall be valid, enforceable, and irrevocable without regard to the justiciable character of the controversy; provided that this act shall not apply to any such agreement or provision to arbitrate in which it is stipulated that this law shall not apply or to any arbitration or award thereunder. [emphasis added]
So for those who fear that Islamic Law is taking over the courts: calm down. If you don’t want to be bound by Islamic law (or any law in particular), don’t go into a contract with such terms. Simple.