MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

August 15, 2013

US judge voids state election to ban Islamic law

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge Thursday prohibited Oklahoma officials from certifying the results of a 2010 statewide election that approved a constitutional amendment to prohibit state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases.

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange permanently enjoined the State Election Board and its secretary, Paul Ziriax, from certifying results of the vote in which State Question 755 was approved by Oklahoma voters. The measure was passed with 70 percent of the vote on Nov. 2, 2010.

Muneer Awad, former executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, challenged the constitutional amendment in a lawsuit that claimed it would stigmatize his religion and would invalidate his will, which he said is partially based on Islamic Law, also known as Sharia Law.

CAIR’s current executive director, Adam Soltani, said the decision reinforces a  ruling Miles-LaGrange almost three years ago in which she approved a temporary restraining order barring certification of the election’s results. That decision was later upheld by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

“We are safe to practice our faith without being demonized,” Soltani said. “It’s also a victory for our Constitution that guarantees and protects freedom of religion.”

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented CAIR, said it will help secure religious freedom and equality for all Oklahomans.

“Throughout the case, the state couldn’t present even a shred of evidence to justify this discriminatory, unnecessary measure,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

“The Supreme Court has held that international law is part of our law,” said Chandra Bhatnagar, senior attorney with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “Preventing courts from considering foreign or international law raises serious questions about the separation of powers and the independence of courts and judges.”

A telephone call to a spokeswoman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt was not immediately returned.

The proposed constitutional amendment read, in part: “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.”

The lawsuit that challenged it alleged that the ballot measure transformed Oklahoma’s Constitution into “an enduring condemnation” of Islam by singling it out for special restrictions by barring Islamic law.

In her ruling, Miles-LaGrange found that Awad and others who challenged the amendment would suffer irreparable harm if a permanent injunction was not granted. The judge ruled that the constitutional amendment’s Sharia law provisions are unconstitutional “and the whole amendment must fall.”

“Because the Court has found that the Sharia law provisions of the amendment are unconstitutional, the court finds that the balance of harms weighs even more in favor of plaintiffs’ having their constitutional rights protected,” the judge wrote.

Federal courts have said supporters of the amendment had acknowledged they did not know of any instance when an Oklahoma court applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other countries.

“Accordingly, the Court finds the threatened injury to plaintiffs outweighs the harm that a permanent injunction may cause defendants,” Miles-LaGrange said.

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