Court Upholds Ruling Blocking Oklahoma Sharia and International Law Ban

January 10, 2012 12:34 pm

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DENVER, CO – A federal appeals court today unanimously upheld a ruling that blocked implementation of a discriminatory and unnecessary Oklahoma state constitutional amendment that would have prohibited state courts from considering what is broadly described as Islamic “Sharia law” and “international law.”

The court concluded that by singling out Islam for unfavorable treatment in state courts, the law likely violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The court rejected the state’s argument that the constitutional amendment was necessary to protect against improper application of Sharia law, explaining:

“Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted . . . that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) challenged the amendment on behalf of Muneer Awad, executive director of CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter.

“As the court recognized, this amendment did nothing more than target one faith for official condemnation,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Even the state admits that there has never been any problem with Oklahoma courts wrongly applying religious law. The so-called ‘Save Our State Amendment’ was a solution in search of a problem, and a blatantly discriminatory solution at that.”

“No one in Oklahoma deserves to be treated like a second-class citizen,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. “This proposed amendment was an affront to the Constitution and everything it stands for.”

The proposed constitutional amendment also would have barred state courts from applying or considering “international law.”

“Attempts to paint international law as irrelevant to the American legal system are wrong-headed and dangerous,” said Chandra Bhatnagar, senior attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “Preventing courts from considering international or foreign law violates our Constitution and undermines the ability of courts to interpret laws and treaties regarding global business, international human rights and even family law issues including international marriage and adoption. For U.S. global leadership to be taken seriously, courts must be able to honor international commitments consistent with our constitutional values.”

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