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10th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds District Court ruling blocking Oklahoma amendment that would have prevented judges from applying Islamic or international law

The Los Angeles Times reports:

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 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling released Tuesday, affirmed an order by a district court judge in 2010 that halted the law 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 law is an amendment to the state constitution and bars 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, the 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. He argued that the law would stigmatize those who practice Islam and deny him rights available to those practicing other religions. For instance, he argued that the law would affect the execution of his will after his death because it instructs the judge to use Sharia law if his wishes are not clear.

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.

The court ruled that Awad made a “strong showing” that he is likely to succeed in his challenge of the law. The ruling keeps the injunction in place as Awad’s lawsuit continues.

The appeals court took up the case after the Oklahoma attorney general’s office appealed the injunction order. “My office will continue to defend the state in this matter and proceed with the merits of the case,” Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

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, the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. It governs many common activities, including fasting and daily prayer.

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.”

The 10th Circuit decision can be found here. A very wise decision.

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.