A federal appeals court will soon consider a challenge to an Oklahoma measure prohibiting the use of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the state's courts. The constitutional amendment is part of a national trend in which politicians — including Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich — argue that it is vital to prevent Sharia from insinuating itself into the administration of justice in U.S. courts. Never mind that there is scant evidence that American judges are resolving cases on the basis of Sharia.
Like the belief that President Obama wasn't born in the United States, the fear that Islamic law will become a touchstone of American justice is delusional. What is depressing is how widespread it is. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing a Muslim man challenging Oklahoma's law, says 24 states have adopted or considered measures forbidding the use of Islamic law. In the paranoid anti-communism of the 1950s, it was said that Americans feared a Red under every bed. Now the dark fantasy is an imam on the bench.
Are American judges applying Islamic law? Rarely, if ever. In New Jersey last year, a judge declined to issue a restraining order against a Muslim man accused of forcing himself on his wife; the judge said his behavior was "consistent with his [religious] practices." An appeals court overturned the decision, rejecting the idea that courts should take religious law into account.