Earlier this week, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision to halt anti-Sharia initiative from going into effect.
Sharia law, also known as Islamic law, comes from the Qur’an, the Hadith (sayings from the prophet Muhammad), and fatwas (rulings of Islamic scholars). While many people in the West view Sharia as unfair and archaic, many Muslims view it as something that sustains humanity (read more from BBC). In practice, it is therefore not uncommon for Islamic countries to be ruled partially by Sharia law.
Oklahoma voters, in 2010, approved an initiative that would prevent judges from basing rulings on international law, specifically mentioning Sharia law. The Denver Post reports:
“After the election, Muneer Awad, the executive director for the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, sued. Awad argued that the initiative stigmatizes Islam and also denies him rights that are available to people of other religions. For instance, Awad said his will instructs a judge to look to Islamic precepts in situations where Awad's wishes aren't clear. The initiative, Awad said, would prevent a judge from doing that, even though the judge could do that for people who are Christian or Jewish.”
The district judge ruled that Oklahoma had no reason to specifically ban Islamic law — the Constitution would protect Oklahoma and every other state through the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Religious law, whether it is Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Baha’i, et al, established as law is unconstitutional in this country. So if the voters that ratified this measure stayed awake in history class, they’d know that the initiative is a moot point.
Except that, the fact that this initiative passed shows that we, as a country and a society, still have problems with religious tolerance. And it’s not just Oklahoma—Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming have each needlessly introduced similar bills. Oklahoma’s sharia-ban falls under the category of Arizona’s HB 1070 — laws that target specific minority groups in a discriminatory way.
Hopefully yesterday’s ruling (read in full here) will deter other states from passing similar laws, as they are both unconstitutional and intolerant of other religions. This case is not over yet, as a ruling on the merits of the case is likely to draw appeals from the losing side. This should serve as a reminder that we are still governed by the Constitution and that anti-Islamic initiatives will not be tolerated.
James Colten is a campaigns assistant at Sojourners.