On Tuesday, Oklahoma voters not only shot down the candidacies of a number of political contenders, but 70 percent of the state’s voters chose to ban courts from using Islamic Sharia law in deciding cases.
Republican state Rep. Rex Duncan authored State Question 775, also known as the “Save our State” constitutional amendment. The issue reportedly arose after a Muslim woman in New Jersey went to a family court requesting a restraining order against her abusive spouse. The woman’s request was denied after the judge ruled that the husband had been rightfully abiding by his Muslim beliefs regarding spousal duties. Though the judge’s controversial decision was later overruled by an appellate court, the case drew a firestorm of attention, including the attention of voters in Oklahoma.
Duncan turned to a fellow Republican, state Sen. Anthony Sykes, who helped co-author the measure. “The fact that Sharia law was even considered anywhere in the United States is enough for me” to sign on, Sykes told CNN in the days leading up to the election. “It should scare anyone that any judge in America would consider using that as precedent.”
The issue has also appeared on the national political scene. During an annual gathering of the Values Voter Summit in Washington this fall, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich announced his opposition to Islamic law in America. “I am totally opposed to any effort to impose Sharia on the United States, and we should have a federal law that says under no circumstance, in any jurisdiction in the United States, will Sharia be used in any court to apply to any judgment made about American law,” Gingrich said.
Further, Sykes also cited comments made by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kana during her June confirmation hearings in which she admitted being willing to consider international law when considering domestic court cases as justification for the initiative.
Before the ballot question passed Tuesday, Muslim leaders dismissed the measure. Saleem Quraishi, president of the American Muslim Association of Oklahoma City called it “fear mongering.” And now that the measure is the law of the land, the Center on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced Thursday that it’s backing a federal lawsuit against the measure, arguing that it violates citizens’ First Amendment right to practice religion freely.
As written, the approved ballot measure states it would amend a state constitution section dealing with the state courts, making them “rely on federal and state law when deciding cases, forbidding them “from considering or using international law” and “from considering or using Sharia Law.”
Some legal scholars warn that the measure could have some unintended consequences. According to some legal experts, the measure could create some conflicts for local businesses who deal with some international companies and establishes a precedent that could also ban other religious law, including the Ten Commandments.
Rick Tepker of the University of Oklahoma School of Law tells CNN the passage of the measure creates “a mess” that will undoubtedly welcome such legal challenges. “Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don’t cry,” Tepker said Wednesday. “I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren’t going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin.”
Despite these potential challenges which may arise in the future, voters in Oklahoma decidedly banned Sharia from their state in what Duncan calls a “pre-emptive strike” in protecting America’s sovereign laws.