In a decision that Muslim legal advocates celebrated as a major win, a federal appeals court on Tuesday agreed with a lower court that blocked an Oklahoma law that would have barred state courts from considering or using Shariah law — the Islamic code of conduct.
The law would likely dampen similar legislation proposed in at least 20 U.S. states over the last couple of years, said Noah Feldman, professor of law at Harvard University.
The decision “should have a good, positive, desirable chilling effect,” said Feldman. “It should tell people in those jurisdictions that (similar laws) almost all will be judged unconstitutional.”
In the November 2010 election, Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly for referendum SQ 755 — described by its author, Rep. Rex Duncan, as “a preemptive strike against Sharia Law coming to Oklahoma.”
The amendment stated that: “The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia law."
Muslim challenged law
A lawsuit filed two days after the election by Oklahoma resident Muneer Awad, a Muslim, charged that the law violated his First Amendment rights. In addition to stigmatizing him and other Muslims, Awad argued, the amendment would invalidate his last will and testament, which made reference to Islamic writings.
A federal judge in Oklahoma agreed that the amendment was most likely unconstitutional and granted a permanent injunction preventing its implementation until a final determination could be made.
On Tuesday, a judge for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo., agreed with the lower court and upheld the injunction — rejecting an appeal by the state of Oklahoma.
“Because the amendment discriminates among religions, it is 'suspect,'"the higher court ruled, "and 'we apply strict scrutiny in adjudging its constitutionality...’”
Problem doesn't exist, lawyer saysAlthough Islam’s detractors suggest that “creeping sharia,” left unchecked, will undermine U.S. freedoms, Feldman says that these laws play on fears of a problem that does not exist...
“The Constitution of the United States, and the constitution of every state -- that is 51 constitutions -- already make it illegal to implement Islamic law,” said Feldman. “Just as Jewish law can’t be the law of the United States, and canon law can’t be the law of the United States, shariah law can’t be the law of the United States.”
“It’s like a law that says we absolutely ban alligators on the South Pole,” he said...