Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment to their state constitution prohibiting state courts from considering international or Islamic law, also known as Sharia, when deciding cases.
But on Monday, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a temporary restraining preventing the state's election board from certifying the results of the vote.
According to the Associated Press, the measure's sponsor, Rep. Rex Duncan, said the amendment was not an attack on Muslims but an effort to prevent activist judges from relying on international law or Islamic law in deciding cases.
But Muneer Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma and filer of the lawsuit before Miles-LaGrange, said the measure transforms the state constitution into "an enduring condemnation" of Islam.
About 20,000 to 30,000 Muslims live in the state, according to the AP.
Is Oklahoma out of line with such an amendment or is the federal judge erring by delaying, for now, its implementation? And, briefly, why?
MOHAMED ELIBIARY, President & CEO, Freedom and Justice Foundation
Reports now show that a dozen states are looking at similar legislation to Oklahoma's Rep. Duncan. Some will view that as proof that the anti-Sharia movement is mainstream, or why would 70% of voters support it? I will concede that it is mainstream, especially in conservative states; but I would respectfully diagnose it as a crisis among Christian Americans and not a Muslim problem. The number of Muslims in Oklahoma or around the country is not driving this, because in the 230-year plus history of documented Muslim settlement in America not a single Muslim, much less a group, has ever advocated for changing the Constitution.
Putting this development in historical context would show us that we had 11 states during the civil rights movement that passed legislation banning the NAACP as subversive. More than a century ago we had the zenith of an anti-Catholicism movement called the 'know nothings" that similarly passed ordinances targeting non-Protestantism. These movements of the past were all rolled back with time and with the upholding of the 1st Amendment's establishment clause that there is no class-ism amongst religions in America.
The federal judge was correct to pause this ballot measure, otherwise our system would suffer from the tyranny of the masses. I expect the federal court system to eventually rule it unconstitutional. Judging from the Anti-Defamation League's recent press release here in Dallas, other religious minorities who've practiced their own religious laws under the supervision of our civil court system's arbitration and mediation framework have rightly begun to speak out condemning the xenophobia behind this measure.
KATIE SHERROD, Independent writer/producer, Fort Worth
Yes, Oklahoma is out of line. It doesn't matter whether 30,000 or three Muslims live in Oklahoma. This law not only is based in sheer unadulterated fear-mongering, but it also blatantly violates our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, in that it singles out only sharia law, not all religious codes. And if it is extended to all religious codes to make it meet the constitutional test, would it outlaw reference to the Ten Commandments?
The unintended consequences of outlawing any reference to international law haven't begun to be explored. What would this law do to contracts Oklahoma-based oil companies have with those based in other countries? Or to any international corporation that might consider moving its headquarters to Oklahoma? One legal scholar suggested it might also outlaw references to English common law, upon which much of our own legal code is based.
The xenophobia apparent in all this would be frightening if it weren't so clear that this is all rank political posturing by Republican conservatives who want to impose their own narrow fundamentalist world view on the rest of us. The irony is that their actions are in line with those of religious fundamentalists around the world, including the Islamic fundamentalists they claim to fear the most.
Thank God for prudent judges. But of course, such judges also are targets of the right-wing Republicans, who define an "activist" judge as one who disagrees with them.
JOE CLIFFORD, Pastor, Head of Staff, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas
Demagoguery is defined as "the practice of a leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace." Oklahoma Rep. Rex Duncan's proposed measure is a great example of this practice. When it was proposed, Sen. Anthony Sykes, a co-author, dubbed it the "Save Our State," amendment saying, "Sharia law coming to the U.S. is a scary concept." Given Muslims represent about a half of one percent of Oklahoma's population, the chances of Sharia deciding court cases in Oklahoma are slim to none, and Slim just left town. As Joseph Thai, a professor at the University of Oklahoma College of law said, "It's an answer in search of a problem." Tragically it makes a segment of the population the problem, demonizing Muslims in order to mobilize votes. The district judge is doing her job by protecting a vulnerable minority from the tyranny of the majority. Leaders should cast vision that inspires, not manufacture threats to manipulate the masses.
JAMES DENISON, Theologian-in-Residence, Baptist General Convention of Texas, President, Center for Informed Faith
"Sharia" means "path" in Arabic. Sharia, or Islamic law, guides every aspect of Muslim life.
Britain now allows Sharia tribunals governing marriage, divorce and inheritance. This is similar to Anglican and Jewish mediation in that country; criminal law remains under the existing legal system. Sharia-compliant banking is growing 15% a year in Europe as well. Since riba (charging or paying of interest) is banned under Islamic law, banks such as Citigroup, HSBC and Deutsche Bank are developing Islamic sectors. Sharia-compliant investments are also growing, avoiding transactions related to weapons, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography and pork.
I understand the Muslim desire to live under Islamic law. America, however, is governed by a secular constitution in which the word "God" nowhere appears. Unlike the U.K., we have no precedent for suspending our governance in favor of alternative religious authorities. To do so would violate the First Amendment's instruction that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
It seems understandable, then, that Oklahoma's voters would pass a referendum which "forbids courts from considering or using international law ... or Sharia Law." However, constitutional experts see problems with the wording of the new measure. They state that it could harm businesses which engage in international commerce and singles out one religion for exclusion.
Whatever comes of the legal battles to be waged in Oklahoma, it is clear to me that "a free church in a free state" is the American ideal. The Founders wanted a country where people of all faiths and those of none could follow their religious beliefs without government entanglement. Jesus taught the same: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22:21).
MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas
The Oklahoma referendum on Sharia is simply gratuitous and one of the best examples of politicians duping the public.
Getting the public to be riled up against something that ain't there is the ploy the politicians have been using. Many a times they succeed and the responsibility falls on our shoulders to wake the public up to such abuses.
The reason the Oklahoma law is gratuitous is because Muslims in America value the laws of our nation. They strongly feel that the American laws serve the very justice they seek, and they do not seek or ask for sharia law in America. Even if a few ask for it, statistically they are insignificant.
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean, Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
To the extent that Shaira is understood as religious law for adherents to Islam, the Oklahoma amendment appears strangely irrelevant on the one hand and oddly threatening on the other. It is clear that religious law does not triumph over civil or criminal law, let alone the Constitution, in the United States. Some practitioner of a religion that mandates obedience to Leviticus, for example, could insist on the religious right to practice slavery, but no such thing would be permissible under the U.S. Constitution or laws. A quasi-Mormon sect operated its own cult, but eventually had to surrender to the reality that its endorsements of polygamy and marriages of male adults to female adolescents were unlawful. The Oklahoma amendment is irrelevant because religious law (in this case, sharia) cannot supplant civil or criminal law.
However, to suggest that a court could not consider Islamic law is actually a threatening proposition for all religions. Roman Catholic Canon Law clearly specifies that only men can be ordained priests. But, if a court in the United States were presented with a sexual discrimination complaint from someone who wanted to be ordained to the priesthood but was barred from it by her gender, the court would have to "consider" the Canon Law of the church--since membership in the Roman Catholic Church is strictly voluntary and anyone who becomes a Catholic knows (or should know) that ordination is reserved for men.
The same gender "discrimination" likewise is practiced in most Baptist congregations, so a court must "consider" Baptist polity when dealing with a complaint about gender discrimination in the hiring of a pastor. Some Americans, apparently including a significant majority of voters in Oklahoma recently, allow their prejudices against Muslims and their ignorance of Islam to take precedence over their knowledge of American justice and freedom.
The judge is correct. The majority of the voters in Oklahoma were wrong. In a democracy, a majority may win an election and still be wrong!
GEORGE MASON, Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas
Aside from the Constitutional question of whether the vote was legal, or even the matter of whether it is culturally wise to make laws preemptively to protect against the influence of international or sharia law in Oklahoma courts, a larger religious question must be posed: When in the history of the world has a religious aim been permanently advanced by the use of secular law? Religion by its nature requires that people be persuaded of its truth. Any time legal measures are employed to secure its privilege, the coercion inherent in such an approach undermines the persuasion of people's hearts and minds. A battle may be won, but the war will be lost because it is being fought on the wrong field.
It doesn't take much insight to see that fear of the loss of Christian social hegemony is being used by politicians to advance their own ends. Any time religion is used for personal or political advantage, it both denigrates that religion and diminishes the richness of our diverse public life.
LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin
I am no expert in jurisprudence, which I will leave to the lawyers. But the Oklahoma amendment has the feel of fear-based political grandstanding designed to score points with constituents rather than respond to a genuine danger. Has Oklahoma had a single incident of a judge basing decisions on Sharia? Is the U.S. constitutional separation of religion and state insufficient to cover that contingency?
I have to agree with Mr. Awad that the amendment transforms the state constitution into an "enduring condemnation of Islam," the background of which is religious (predominantly Christian) bigotry. Like Christianity, Islam is an ancient and diverse faith tradition. It is as unjust to judge all Muslims on the beliefs and actions of extremist Muslims as it would be to judge all Christians on the beliefs and actions of the KKK.
When will we learn that protecting the religious freedom of minority faiths protects our own religious freedom? The continuing anti-Islamic rhetoric betrays the spirit of American democracy, endangers the lives of Americans abroad (especially our military), oppresses peace-loving American Muslims, and feeds the lie of terrorists seeking to frame our war on terrorism as a cosmic war between Christianity and Islam. Shall we base our laws on fear and ignorance or intelligence and truth?
TEXAS FAITH: Was Oklahoma out of line with Sharia amendment? 3:15 PM Tue, Nov 16, 2010 |Sam Hodges/Reporter
- US: Sharia Law commands 'conformance to law of the land' (rupeenews.com)
- US: Sharia Law commands 'conformance to law of the land' (musalmantimes.com)
- Sharia Law commands 'obedience of law of the land' (ajma.org)
- Judge blocks OK's Racist Anti-Islam amendment (musalmantimes.com)
- Okla Duncan's inane law not OK: Bigotry will affect business (musalmantimes.com)
- Oklahoma's absurd Anti-Shariah Law may have profound implications (rupeenews.com)