Civil Rights Organizations Welcome Federal Court Decision on Oklahoma Anti-Sharia Bill
by Sheila Musaji
TAM has been following the anti-Sharia movement as it spreads to states across the country. We have a backgrounder here which includes an extensive article collection. Oklahoma was the first state to pass a bill banning Sharia law.
Think Progress reported that yesterday, the Denver based Federal 10th Circuit Court Of Appeals struck down Oklahoma’s ban on Sharia law, declaring that it violated the United States Constitution. You can read the full ruling here.
The the 10th Circuit unanimously affirmed the lower court’s permanent injunction. In a 37-page decision, the three-judge panel agreed that Oklahoma’s Sharia ban violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and was therefore unconstitutional. On page 32, the 10th Circuit identified the heart of the matter, that Oklahoma’s move had no basis in reality but simply singled out Muslims for discrimination:
Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma. See Awad, 754 F. Supp. 2d at 1308; Aplt. App. Vol. 1 at 67-68.
Given the lack of evidence of any concrete problem, any harm Appellants seek to remedy with the proposed amendment is speculative at best and cannot support a compelling interest.15 “To sacrifice First Amendment protections for so speculative a gain is not warranted . . . .” Columbia Broad. Sys., Inc. v. Democratic Nat’l Co., 412 U.S. 94, 127 (1973).
This decision was in response to a lawsuit filed in 2010 by Muneer Awad, the head of CAIR’s Oklahoma office (CAIR-OK), the lower court blocked implementation of the “Save Our State Amendment” based on arguments that it would unconstitutionally disfavor an entire faith and deny Oklahoma’s Muslims access to the judicial system on the same terms as every other citizen. The state appealed that ruling. Last year, CAIR and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a brief urging the circuit court to uphold the lower court’s ruling blocking implementation of the amendment.
A number of organizations signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief, drafted by the American Jewish Committee, arguing that the amendment is unconstitutional because it singles out Muslims for derogatory treatment. Americans United, The Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, the Interfaith Alliance and the Union for Reform Judaism joined AU on the brief.
Here are the statements released to date.
AMERICANS UNITED WELCOMES COURTS DECISION
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today hailed a federal appellate court ruling against an Oklahoma constitutional amendment that bars Islamic law in the state.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling issuing an injunction blocking implementation of the so-called “Save Our State” amendment. The amendment was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in 2010, even though there is no drive to impose sharia in the state.
“This amendment is divisive, unnecessary and dangerous,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. “I’m glad to see it go.”
A lawsuit against the amendment was filed by Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Council for American-Islamic Relations, along with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Americans United signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief, drafted by the American Jewish Committee, arguing that the amendment is unconstitutional because it singles out Muslims for derogatory treatment. The Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, the Interfaith Alliance and the Union for Reform Judaism joined AU on the brief.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled unanimously against the amendment.
“Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve,” wrote Judge Scott M. Matheson for the unanimous court. “Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.”
AU’s Lynn said the court made the right call in the Awad v. Ziriax case.
“The First Amendment protects Americans from government imposition of religious law, whether it be Islamic, Christian or something else,” Lynn said. “This amendment is simply an excuse for Islam bashing, and it’s an embarrassment to the state.”
ACLU STATEMENT ON DECISION
Condemning an entire faith and singling out its followers for disfavored and unequal treatment by the government violates the Constitution, it turns out. That principle might seem obvious to anyone who has read the Constitution, but the State of Oklahoma and its voters did not get the message, prompting a federal appeals court today to affirm a decision blocking the implementation of an anti-Islam constitutional amendment.
The Constitution’s promise of religious liberty extends to followers of all faiths, including Muslims. Thus, a federal appeals court ruled today that an Oklahoma law that discriminates against Muslims appearing before state courts likely violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The court upheld a district court ruling preventing the amendment from taking effect. The ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (“CAIR”) represent the plaintiff in the case, Muneer Awad (pictured), the executive director of CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter.
Oklahoma’s proposed “Save Our State Amendment” would have changed the state constitution to bar state courts from considering so-called “Sharia Law” in making decisions. The amendment defined “Sharia Law” broadly as Islamic law based on the Koran and the teachings of Mohammed. If implemented, the amendment would have rendered Oklahoma’s Muslims second-class citizens before the state courts. For example, it could have prevented courts from probating a will that incorporated or even mentioned the religious beliefs of the deceased. It also could have inhibited Muslims from forming enforceable contracts in accordance with their religious beliefs, even while those of other faiths could. And it would have effectively denied Muslims the ability to bring suit in state court to remedy violations of their religious freedom rights.
In its ruling, the appeals court flatly rejected the State’s claim that the law was necessary to protect against the courts’ improper application of Sharia law. The court affirmed that the so-called “Sharia threat” identified by the State is a myth. The court wrote: “Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted…that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.”
In addition to blatantly discriminating against Muslims, the amendment also would have banned state courts from applying or considering “international law.” Not only would this have violated the Constitution, but it also would have undermined courts’ abilities to interpret laws and treaties relating global business issues and international human rights. And it could have blocked state courts from recognizing or ruling on issues relating to international marriages and adoptions.
The Oklahoma law was an early entrant in the race by a number of state officials to ban Sharia law and international law in response to a loathsome wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that has swept the country in the last few years, including myriad attacks on Muslim houses of worship, discrimination against Muslim women, and the improper targeting of Muslims in the national security context. The ACLU continues to work tirelessly to protect the rights of Muslims in all of these areas.
The court’s decision today represents a significant victory against anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry and sends the message that the religious liberty of Muslims, like Americans of all faiths, may not be put up for a vote.
ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE ADL APPLAUDS FEDERAL APPEALS COURT DECISION REJECTING OKLAHOMA ANTI-SHARIA AMENDMENT
Tulsa, OK, January 11, 2012 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today applauded a decision by the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals that bars implementation of an Oklahoma constitutional amendment targeting Islamic (Sharia) law. The decision affirmed a lower court ruling that the initiative violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
“We commend the U.S. Court of Appeals for halting Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia amendment,” said Roberta Clark, Acting ADL North Texas/Oklahoma Regional Director. “This ruling is particularly noteworthy because it reinforces past court decisions invalidating laws that discriminate against a specific faith unless a narrow and compelling government interest could be demonstrated. As we have said before, these legislative efforts are the proverbial solution in search of a problem. Since there is no threat of Islamic law being inappropriately considered in our court system, the amendment had absolutely no justification.”
The so-called “Save Our State” amendment, approved by Oklahoma voters in November 2010, would prohibit Oklahoma courts from using or considering Islamic law. However, it contains no similar prohibition against other religious laws.
ADL joined with other religious freedom advocates in submitting a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief to the 10th Circuit in the case of Muneer Awad v. Paul Ziriax, et. al., arguing that the Oklahoma amendment was unconstitutional.
AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE AJC Welcomes Appellate Court Ruling
January 10, 2012 – New York – AJC welcomed a federal appeals court decision blocking implementation of an Oklahoma provision targeting Sharia law. The ruling upheld a lower court decision granting a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the provision adopted by popular referendum, known as State Question 755.
“Singling out the religious law of one faith is simply unconstitutional and smacks of fear-mongering,” said AJC Associate General Counsel Marc D. Stern. The Court of Appeals found that “the Oklahoma amendment specifically name[d] the target of its discrimination. The only religious law mentioned in the amendment is Sharia law, which is defined in SQ 755 in religion terms.”
In a brief filed last May with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in the case of Awad v. Ziriax, AJC argued that an Oklahoma constitutional provision adopted by referendum last November banning Oklahoma courts from relying on Sharia law is “flagrantly unconstitutional” for violating the “core nondiscrimination command of the Establishment Clause.”
The brief pointed out that there was no mistaking the discriminatory purposes of the provision’s sponsors. They and their supporters repeatedly said that the proposal was intended to ward off the threat—of which there was no evidence—of an Islamic law takeover of Oklahoma’s courts. The proposal, AJC noted, did not ban reliance on other forms of religious law, including Jewish and canon law.
“In a nation that treasures religious freedom and whose Constitution forbids government to have favored or disfavored faiths, the Oklahoma provision cannot stand,” said Stern.
Joining AJC in the brief were the Anti-Defamation League, Union of Reform Judaism, Interfaith Alliance, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism.
The brief was prepared for AJC by the firm of Jenner & Block.
CAIR WELCOMES THE RULING
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 1/10/12)—The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) welcomed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upholding a lower court’s decision to block implementation of an Oklahoma state constitutional amendment that would prohibit courts from applying—or even considering—“Sharia law” and “international law.”
In response to a lawsuit filed in 2010 by Muneer Awad, the head of CAIR’s Oklahoma office (CAIR-OK), the lower court blocked implementation of the “Save Our State Amendment” based on arguments that it would unconstitutionally disfavor an entire faith and deny Oklahoma’s Muslims access to the judicial system on the same terms as every other citizen. The state appealed that ruling.
SEE: Judge Rules in Favor of Muslim Man on State Question 755. You can read the lower court’s ruling here.
Last year, CAIR and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a brief urging the circuit court to uphold the lower court’s ruling blocking implementation of the amendment. You can read the CAIR-ACLU brief here.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the Constitution and for the right of all Americans to freely practice their faith,” said CAIR Staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas, who is co-counsel on the case.
“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, and we are pleased that the appeals court recognized that fact,” said CAIR-OK’s Awad.
Awad noted that Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia amendment is just one of more than 20 similar pieces of legislation introduced in state legislatures nationwide.