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Florida Judge Backs Off Decision To Use Sharia Law In Mosque Lawsuit

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A Tampa judge, who originally decided to use Islamic law to help decide a lawsuit against a mosque, has decided to dismiss the case, citing the separation between church and state. (credit: PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

A Tampa judge, who originally decided to use Islamic law to help decide a lawsuit against a mosque, has decided to dismiss the case, citing the separation between church and state. (credit: PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

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TAMPA, Fla. (CBS Tampa) – A Tampa-area judge who originally planned to use Sharia law to decide a lawsuit against a mosque cited that the court would not intervene in a church matter and ordered the case to be dismissed.

Hillsborough Judge Richard Nielsen altered his original stance on using ecclesiastical Islamic law to decide a lawsuit by ruling last week that the U.S. Constitution prohibited the court from getting involved in the matter between the Islamic Education Center of Tampa and several ousted mosque trustees.

“Once such matters are decided by an ecclesiastical tribunal, the civil courts are to accept the decision as binding on them,” Nielsen concluded.

At the heart of the litigation was $2.2 million in state funding that the two sides have been fighting for access to, funding that came about when some of the mosque’s property was taken for a road project for the state. Paul Thanasides, the mosque’s attorney, told the St. Petersburg Times that the ousted trustees, who sued the mosque for wrongful termination, were properly terminated, thus maintaining control with the mosque’s current administration.

“The law was followed the way it should be,” Thanasides told the Times. “We look forward to a more peaceful future.”

Whether an appeal is made by the four ousted trustees is uncertain to this point. Lee Segal, the attorney for the ousted trustees, has about 30 days to file an appeal.

“No, it wasn’t expected, but it gets us to the same place,” Segal told CBS Tampa in regard to the case being dismissed to this point.

Still, Segal maintains that his clients are still in the right in terms of the case.

“The other side is going around telling people they won because the case got dismissed,” Segal said. “My guys were the founders. They were involved heavily when there was no money involved.”

There is a hearing scheduled for Jan. 18, 2012, in front of a new judge.

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