by Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel
Last week, someone told the Rev. Joel Hunter that they hoped his family dies in a fire.
Why? Because Hunter had the audacity to speak out against intolerance, specifically intolerance against Muslims.
Hunter quickly paid the price, receiving hundreds of angry emails, including the death wish.
This is the state of discourse in Florida.
And it's fostered in part by the people you elect.
You see, once upon a time, the fringy crusade against all things Islamic was led by a handful of legislators who would boycott peaceful prayers by imams and file goofy bills that common-sense legislators ignored.
Unfortunately, Florida is increasingly known as the state where common sense goes to die.
A bill that was dismissed last year as irrelevant — one that tries to prohibit Islamic and foreign laws from affecting Florida court rulings — is now gaining steam.
Even the bill's sponsor, Sen. Alan Hays, struggled to cite examples of the problem he was claiming to solve. Instead, Hays called his bill "preventative."
The fringe-o-sphere, however, claims Islamic Shariah law is creeping into America. So they are backing a bill that would supposedly ban judges from relying upon any and all foreign laws.
Apparently patriotic Americans don't take kindly to foreign precedent (never mind the Magna Carta).
Foreign-based court rulings are scant, if not nonexistent, in most places. Chief judges I polled said they have never cited any and describe the controversy as manufactured.
Still, even if there were questionable rulings in lower levels of the judiciary, it wouldn't be an issue for the Legislature to address.
You see, in America, we have separation of powers — which brings us to the biggest problem with Hays' bill: It's probably unconstitutional.
Don't take it from me. The senate's own analysts concluded his bill could be "an infringement on the essential role of the judicial branch in violation of the constitutional separation of powers."
Analysts spent a solid two pages describing all the "technical deficiencies" in the bill.
Undeterred, a Senate committee passed it anyway — with the support of local Republicans Andy Gardiner and David Simmons, guys who normally know better.
Many sensible people of all faith and partisan stripes remain opposed to this unneeded bill.
One of them is Hunter, the well-known pastor of Northland, a Church Distributed.
In a short statement to the Senate, read by a Muslim, Hunter described the bill as unneeded and rooted in bias. Hunter noted that he is a conservative evangelical, and pointed out that "objecting to unnecessary law is a conservative principle as well as a libertarian one."
Hunter later told me he viewed his statement as simply "a common-sense response."
But remember: This is Florida.
Hunter was immediately targeted by groups such as the Florida Family Association — a group that teeters back and forth in trying to decide who it wants to demonize most: Muslims or gays.
"There were letters that said, 'I hope your family dies in a fire,' " Hunter recalled. "Just horrible, horrible things."
Often those who scream loudest about the Lord are His worst disciples.
And the most unlikely to appreciate the irony of their rants about "religious extremists."
Hunter said he bears no ill will — even for the folks who offered death wishes.
"I just feel so sorry for those people," he said. "Because they're walking in fear."
I respect Hunter's ability to empathize. But my concerns go beyond empathy.
Because these people's hyperbolic fears are threatening to infringe upon my Constitution.
And because our legislators are fanning the flames.