Appeals Court Hears Challenge to Oklahoma's Sharia Law Ban

Oklahoma Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick fielded pointed questions Monday from judges on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who asked why a state constitutional amendment banning Sharia law applies only to one religion.

“There’s no mention of any other specific law,” said Judge Scott Matheson, appointed last year to the Denver-based federal court by President Barack Obama. “We just have Sharia law singled out.”

Wyrick explained that the Oklahoma ballot measure that would ban Sharia law, SQ 775, the “Save our State” amendment, applies not just to Sharia – the body of law based on the Quran and the religion of Islam – but to all international laws.

Approved in November 2010 by 70 percent of voters in the Sooner State, the measure is aimed at so-called “cases of first impression,” legal matters for which there is no specific law or precedent on which to render a decision.

Often in such cases, judges look to laws or precedents outside their jurisdiction for some guidance as to how to rule. The Oklahoma amendment, concerning which the 10th Circuit heard opposing oral arguments Monday, declares that states may not consider anything other than U.S. laws.

Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, has mounted the court challenge to SQ 775 with the help of the ACLU and support of Muslim organizations around the country.

His challenge claims that Oklahoma’s proposed ban on Sharia law violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. He accuses the supporters of SQ 775, carried in the state legislature by the Republican Rep. Rex Duncan, of being “politically motivated.”

Duncan denies the accusation. He says he just doesn’t want Oklahoma judges deciding state cases on the basis of Sharia or other non-American laws. And while Awad and other Muslim leaders suggest that the prospect is remote of Sharia law being applied in Oklahoma or any other state, it has, in fact occurred.

Perhaps the most notorious case occurred in 2008 when a New Jersey woman sought a temporary restraining order against her estranged husband, whom she claimed had raped her.

A trial judge denied the restraining order, ruling that the husband had acted according to Sharia law, under which “his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to” was not prohibited, no matter state or federal law.

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