Federal appeals court urged to block Oklahoma Islamic law ban

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [advocacy websites] on Monday asked the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] to uphold [brief, PDF] a lower court ruling that blocked an Oklahoma constitutional amendment banning courts from considering international or Islamic law. Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved the measure [JURIST report], State Question 755 (SQ 755) [text, PDF], last November with 70 percent of the vote. The ACLU and CAIR filed suit on behalf of Oklahoma citizen Muneer Awad, who argued that the ban would invalidate part of his will, which is partially rooted in Islamic Sharia Law, and a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma [official website] issued a temporary injunction [JURIST report]. The groups argued that the amendment should be permanently enjoined:

As the District Court concluded after an evidentiary hearing, the proposed constitutional amendment has harmful, real-world consequences. The measure tramples the free exercise rights of a disfavored minority faith and constrains the ability of Plaintiff Muneer Awad and his fellow Muslims in Oklahoma to execute valid wills, assert religious liberty claims under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, and enjoy equal access to the state judicial system.

The "Save Our State Amendment" also undercuts a central tenet of the Establishment Clause, sending an unmistakable message that Muslims are religious and political outsiders in their own State. The District Court did not abuse its discretion in preliminarily enjoining this unprecedented measure.

It remains unclear exactly what effect the measure would have since foreign law is not binding on state or federal courts.

SQ 755 would prevent Oklahoma courts from "look[ing] to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures," requiring them only to look to legal precedents of other states for guidance, provided that state does not use Islamic law. It was sponsored by state Representative Rex Duncan (R) [official website], who described it as a preemptive strike against the use of Islamic law in Oklahoma. Duncan defended SQ 755 as necessary to protect Oklahoma [MSNBC video] from an attack on the fundamental Judeo-Christian principles on which he says the US is founded. Several other state legislatures are now considering similar measures.

 

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