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 U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling released Tuesday, affirmed an order by a district court judge in 2010 that prevented the voter-approved state constitutional amendment 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 amendment would bar 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.
"This serves as a reminder that these anti-sharia laws are unconstitutional and that if politicians use fear-mongering and bigotry, the courts won't allow it to last for long," said Muneer Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma. Awad sued to block the law, contending that it infringed on his 1st Amendment rights.
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.
Republican Sen. Anthony Sykes, who sponsored the measure in the state Senate, said its goal was to require judges to apply only the laws of the United States and Oklahoma. "Sharia merges religion and the law. Our constitution is totally different," he said. "I think it is something that competes with our constitution — it just doesn't mesh."
Sharia — which translates roughly as "path" in Arabic — is intended to guide Muslims to connect with God and is rooted in mercy and compassion, said Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles.
Al-Marayati argues that campaigns to ban sharia present a distorted view of Islamic law. "They equate it with unjust and abusive practices originated by tyrannical regimes in the Middle East," he said. "They use misconceptions about Muslims to misinform the American public."