OKLAHOMA CITY – A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday to block a new amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that would prohibit state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases.
U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange handed down the order after an Oklahoma man filed a lawsuit claiming the amendment stigmatized his religion and would invalidate his will, which he said is partially based on Islamic Law, also known as Sharia Law.
"My constitutional rights are being violated through the condemnation of my faith," said Muneer Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma. "Islam was the target of this amendment. This amendment does not have a secular purpose."
The measure, State Question 755, was approved with 70 percent of the vote in the Nov. 2 general election. The judge's order prevents the state Election Board from certifying the results of that vote, which it had planned to do Tuesday afternoon.
The order will remain in effect until a Nov. 22 hearing on a preliminary injunction.
Awad, a law school graduate who has not been admitted to practice in Oklahoma, was congratulated by Muslims and other supporters following Miles-Lagrange's ruling. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Muslims live in the state.
"We're confident in the case. We're confident in the claims we are making," said Awad, who filed the lawsuit Thursday. "Today's ruling is a reminder of the strength of our nation's legal system and the protections it grants to religious minorities."
The measure's author, Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, attended the brief court hearing and said afterward he was surprised by Miles-Lagrange's decision.
"It thwarts the will of the people," said Duncan, an attorney who was elected district attorney in the northern Oklahoma counties of Osage and Pawnee in the general election.
Duncan has said the constitutional amendment was not intended as an attack on Muslims but an effort to prevent activist judges from relying on international law or Islamic law when ruling on legal cases.
In 2007, Duncan rejected a Quran as a gift from a council created by Gov. Brad Henry, explaining that "most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology."
The constitutional amendment was one of several on Oklahoma's ballot that critics said pandered to conservatives and would move the state further to the right.
Among other things, Awad's lawsuit alleges the measure transforms Oklahoma's Constitution into "an enduring condemnation" of Islam by singling it out and barring courts from referring to Islamic law. It also alleges it violates the First Amendment's prohibition against laws regarding the establishment of religion.
Legal experts also have questioned the measure. Joseph Thai, a professor at the University of Oklahoma's College of Law, said the ballot measure is "an answer in search of a problem" and that there is no danger of international law or Sharia law overtaking the American legal system.