Published November 08, 2010
A popular new law that bars Oklahoma courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, when deciding cases was put on hold Monday after a prominent Muslim in the state won a temporary restraining order in federal court.
Two state legislators were quick to blast the judge's ruling and the Oklahoma attorney general, who they said did not stand up to support the new law.
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.
"Today's ruling is a reminder of the strength of our nation's legal system and the protections it grants to religious minorities," said Muneer Awad, executive director of Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Oklahoma, who filed the suit last Thursday, claiming the law violated his constitutional rights.
"We are humbled by this opportunity to show our fellow Oklahomans that Muslims are their neighbors and that we are committed to upholding the U.S. Constitution and promoting the benefits of a pluralistic society," Awad said.
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.”
Calls to Edmondson’s office were not returned.
Oklahoma 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."
Opponents argued that the measure was unnecessary because state judges have no reason to rely on Islamic law. Most of the state’s newspapers opposed the measure.
At an impromptu news conference following Monday's ruling, CAIR officials called on the sponsors of the ballot measure to repudiate hate messages they said have been received by Muslim institutions in Oklahoma following the law's passage.