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Constitutional Law

10th Circuit Says Federal Judge Got It Right, Correctly Blocked Okla. Voter Ban on Shariah Law

Posted Jan 10, 2012 3:59 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A federal appeals court in Denver today gave a green light to a lawsuit over an Oklahoma voter initiative that approved a state constitutional amendment banning state courts from looking to Islamic religious law in their rulings.

Executive director Muneer Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had standing to sue under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution even though the ballot measure hadn't yet been implemented when he filed his complaint, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held.

And a federal district judge correctly issued a temporary injunction blocking the initiative from taking effect while the case progresses in federal court in Oklahoma, a three-judge appellate panel also ruled. The state had argued that the judge abused his discretion by blocking the Oklahoma State Election Board from certifying the result of the initiative.

Although the state argued that Shariah law was used only as an example, "the amendment bans only one form of religious law—Shariah law," says the 10th Circuit in its opinion (PDF).

Its wording also "implies that whatever religions the legislature considered to be part of domestic or Oklahoma culture would not have their legal precepts prohibited from consideration, while all others would," the opinion continues. Hence, "because the amendment discriminates among religions, it is 'suspect,' and 'we apply strict scrutiny in adjudging its constitutionality.' "

In a written statement provided to the Denver Post, Awad expressed satisfaction with the court's ruling, saying: "This is an important reminder that the Constitution is the last line of defense against a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in our society."

Additional and related coverage:

ABA Journal: "Anti-Shariah Bills Under Review"

ABA Journal: "Co-Equal Opportunity: Legislators Are Out to Take Over Their State Judiciary Systems"

ABAJournal.com: "Fed’l Judge Puts Hold on Okla. Amendment Banning State-Court Use of Shariah Law"

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