OKLAHOMA CITY – A proposed constitutional amendment that would ban Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law discriminates against religions, and a Muslim community leader has the right to challenge its constitutionality, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.
The court in Denver upheld U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange's order blocking implementation of the amendment shortly after it was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010.
Muneer Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, sued to block the law from taking effect, arguing that the Save Our State Amendment violated his First Amendment rights.
"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," Awad said. "We are also hopeful that this decision serves as a reminder to politicians wishing to score political points through fear-mongering and bigotry."
The amendment read, in part: "The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia law."
State Sen. Anthony Sykes, who led the Senate effort to get the measure on the ballot, said Tuesday he would continue to fight to lift the injunction.
"The federal appeals court in Denver attempted to silence the voice of 70 percent of Oklahoma voters," Sykes said in a statement. "At some point we have to decide whether this is a country of by and for the judges, or of by and for the people. How far will the people let them go? This ruling is right along with legalizing abortion and forced busing of school children."
Backers argued that the amendment intended to ban all religious laws, that Islamic law was merely named as an example and that it wasn't meant as a specific attack on Muslims. The court disagreed.
"That argument conflicts with the amendment's plain language, which mentions Sharia law in two places," the appeals court opinion said.
The court also noted that the backers of the amendment acknowledged they did not know of any instance when an Oklahoma court applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other countries.
Awad argued that the ban on Islamic law would likely affect every aspect of his life as well as the execution of his will after his death. The appeals court pointed out that Awad made a "strong showing" of potential harm.
"When the law that voters wish to enact is likely unconstitutional, their interests do not outweigh Mr. Awad's in having his constitutional rights protected," the court said.
The case now returns to federal court in Oklahoma City to determine the constitutionality of the proposed amendment.
"My office will continue to defend the state in this matter and proceed with the merits of the case," Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement.
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy