A state appeals court has ruled that a Hillsborough County Circuit judge can consider Islamic law to decide a civil case between a mosque and its former trustees.
The decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland to decline the appeal of the Islamic Education Center of Tampa sends the case back to Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Richard A. Nielsen. Nielsen’s decision in March to allow the case to proceed under “ecclesiastical Islamic law” drew national attention when the ruling was criticized by conservative bloggers.
The case has its roots in 2002, when the mosque ousted four of its founding members; those founding members later sued the mosque. One of the main issues of dispute was who would be responsible for how to spend $2.5 million Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise had paid the mosque for 3.4 acres needed to widen Veterans Expressway.
When he made his March ruling, Nielsen said courts have ruled “that ecclesiastical law controls certain relations between members of a religious organization, whether a church, synagogue, temple or mosque.”
The uproar over the ruling went overboard, said Lee Segal, a Clearwater attorney representing the ousted trustees. He said the ruling follows established legal precedent and does not mean Nielsen is allowing Islamic law to trump U.S. law.
“When the parties agree (before the trial that) they are bound to Islamic law, they can be bound to Islamic law,” Segal said. “As long as what you are agreeing to doesn’t violate the constitution of the United States, you can apply any type of law.”
Though the issue of Islamic law has garnered attention, the legal fight over the lawsuit is complicated, with much of it revolving around the arbitration process.
On Monday, Paul Thanasides, the attorney for the mosque, filed a new motion to dismiss the case because of lack of jurisdiction.
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