A federal appeals court today blocked a measure that would've made Oklahoma the first state in the nation to ban the Sharia law in its court system.
The Oklahoma amendment was aimed at "cases of first impression," legal disputes in which there is no law or precedent to resolve the matter at hand. In such cases, judges can choose to look to laws or rulings in other jurisdictions for guidance. The proposed amendment would have blocked judges in state courts from drawing on Sharia, or the laws of other nations, in such decisions.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (pictured) ruled in favor of Muneer Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Oklahoma, who filed a lawsuit against the Oklahoma election board on the grounds that the voter-approved constitutional amendment violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution forbidding the government from favoring one religion over another.
The reason for the Constitutional breach is that the amendment specifically singles out Sharia Law, stating that "it forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law."
Sharia law is broadly defined as a body of law based on Islam and its central religious text, the Quran.
The Denver-based appellate court, which is only one rung below the U.S. Supreme Court, said it is likely the initiative will be found unconstitutional because it singles out Islam for discrimination. The court said Oklahoma hasn't shown any reason for the need to specifically ban Islamic law.
"Given the lack of evidence of any concrete problem, any harm (Oklahoma) seek(s) to remedy with the proposed amendment is speculative at best," 10th Circuit Judge Scott Matheson, writing for a three-judge panel of the court, concluded.
Muneer Awad was pleased with the outcome. "This is an important reminder that the Constitution is the last line of defense against a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in our society, and we are pleased that the appeals court recognized that fact," Awad said in a statement. "We are also hopeful that this decision serves as a reminder to politicians wishing to score political points through fear-mongering and bigotry."
Advocates for the ban today vowed to fight the injunction.
"The federal appeals court in Denver attempted to silence the voice of 70 percent of Oklahoma voters," State Sen. Anthony Sykes said in a statement. "At some point we have to decide whether this is a country of by and for the judges, or of by and for the people. How far will the people let them go? This ruling is right along with legalizing abortion and forced busing of school children."
The ballot measure passed by this high margin in November, 2010, even though sponsors of the measure produced no evidence that Sharia law is actually being used in the courts. Its proponents said that even though it was not a problem in Oklahoma, they were attempting to prevent it from becoming one.
But opponents of the ban said it is an unconstitutional scare tactic aimed at discriminating against Muslims. They said it will have a broad impact in the areas of family law that come before the courts and could prove to have national implications. CAIR immediately challenged the measure.
"While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out ... the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual's constitutional rights," the appeals court said in its 37-page written decision.
Sharia law has become a hot-button issue in the United States, particularly among conservatives who want similar laws to be imposed across the country.
Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich once advocated imposing such a law at the federal level, saying in a September 2010 speech, âWe should have a federal law that says under no circumstance, in any jurisdiction in the United States, will Sharia be used in any court to apply to any judgment.â
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who dropped out of the race last week after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, signed a conservative pledge that vowed to fight against Sharia law, among other things such as porn.
"Oklahoma's Ban on Sharia Law Struck Down by Federal Appeals Court" ABC News January 11, 2012
John Ingold, "Oklahoma's ban on Islamic law blocked by appeals court" The Denver Post January 11, 2012
"Court sets back Oklahoma's ban on Islamic law" Reuters January 10, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today