A federal judge blocked Oklahoma officials Monday from implementing a voter-approved referendum that singles out Islamic religious law, or Shariah, as a threat to the state.
Chief Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, of U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City, set a Nov. 22 hearing to consider whether the Save Our State Amendment violates the U.S. Constitution. Until then, she issued a temporary restraining order preventing the state Election Board from certifying State Question 755, which passed by 70% on Nov. 2.
The measure directs state courts to ignore “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” and specifically forbids consideration of “international law or Sharia Law.”
A Muslim activist in Oklahoma City, Muneer Awad, filed suit last week, alleging the measure violated the First Amendment, which forbids government from promoting an “establishment of religion” or interfering with “free exercise” of religion.
The measure “would enshrine disapproval of Islam in the state constitution,” said Mr. Awad, 27 years old, in an interview. He is executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In addition, he said, the provision could invalidate his will, which refers to Islamic teachings on the distribution of property.
U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LeGrange ruled that the measure, which passed by a large margin in last Tuesday’s elections, would be suspended until a hearing on Nov. 22, when she will listen to arguments on whether the court’s temporary injunction should become permanent.
Shariah is found in the Koran and is the basis of law in most Islamic countries, though its implementation varies widely. It has been used in Iran and Somalia, among other places, to condone harsh punishments like amputations and stoning.
Supporters of the Oklahoma ballot initiative, which passed with 70 percent of the vote, would not comment on the impact of the ruling. But state Sen. Anthony Sykes, who co-authored the measure, charged that the judge ruled as she did because the state’s attorney general, Drew Edmondson, failed to respond to the suit.
“The attorney general failed to file a response,” Sykes said. “I am afraid that this might get written in stone that shouldn’t be because the attorney general is leaving and a new one is coming in.”
klahoma state Rep. Rex Duncan, who co-sponsored the bill, said he hadn’t seen the judge’s written ruling yet, but he was disappointed that “her words from the bench indicated she had completely embraced the plaintiff’s arguments.”
“They were pretty extraordinary statements from the judge,” he said.
Duncan and Sykes both said the state should have challenged whether Awad had the standing to bring the case.
“As far as we know, he flew into here from Georgia just to make the case,” Duncan said. “We don’t think he is an Oklahoma resident or plans to stay. We don’t think he had standing.”
Duncan and others who pushed for the measure argued that the ban “will constitute a pre-emptive strike against Shariah law coming to Oklahoma.” He said England has embraced 85 Shariah law courts and warned voters that “while Oklahoma is still able to defend itself against this sort of hideous invasion, we should do so.”