Oklahoma Sharia law ban ‘unconstitutional’, court rules

A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling that blocked the implementation of an Oklahoma law barring judges from considering international or Islamic law in their decisions. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling released Tuesday, affirmed an order by a district court judge in 2010 that halted the law from taking effect.

The ruling also allows a Muslim community leader in Oklahoma City to continue his legal challenge of the law’s constitutionality. The measure, known as State Question 755, was approved with 70% of the vote in 2010. The law is an amendment to the state constitution and bars courts from considering the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. “Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or sharia law,” the law reads.

The appellate court opinion pointed out that proponents of the law admitted to not knowing of a single instance in which an Oklahoma court applied Sharia law or the legal precepts of other countries.

Muneer Awad sued to block the law, contending that it infringed on his 1st Amendment rights. He argued that the law would stigmatize those who practice Islam and deny him rights available to those practicing other religions. For instance, he argued that the law would affect the execution of his will after his death because it instructs the judge to use Sharia law if his wishes are not clear.

Proponents of the law argued that it was intended to ban courts from considering all religious laws and that sharia was simply used as an example. The appeals court, however, disagreed. “That argument conflicts with the amendment’s plain language, which mentions sharia law in two places,” the court opinion read. The court ruled that Awad made a “strong showing” that he is likely to succeed in his challenge of the law. The ruling keeps the injunction in place as Awad’s lawsuit continues.

The appeals court took up the case after the Oklahoma attorney general’s office appealed the injunction order. “My office will continue to defend the state in this matter and proceed with the merits of the case,” Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

State Sen. Anthony Sykes, who led the Senate effort to get the measure on the ballot, said Tuesday he would continue to fight to lift the injunction. “The federal appeals court in Denver attempted to silence the voice of 70 percent of Oklahoma voters,” 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.”

A noteworthy quote from the appellate panel holds that the state constitutional amendment “implies that whatever religions the legislature considered to be part of domestic or Oklahoma culture would not have their legal precepts prohibited from consideration, while all others would…”.

The full text of the 10th Circuit  Court of Appeals opinion is available here.

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