Oklahoma lawmakers are giving us déjà vu now that they have passed a second attempt to ban shariah law from the state’s courts.
Back in 2010, 70 percent of Oklahoma voters approved a constitutional amendment that singled out Muslims for religious discrimination. The amendment would have revised the state constitution so that “courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law.”
This action, which Americans United opposed, was clearly unconstitutional. A federal district court agreed, and the amendment never went into effect.
But we know that the forces of the Religious Right are not so easily deterred, and a similar, albeit subtler, measure is back. And it would have the same result – discriminating against Muslims.
The latest bill, which was sponsored in the Oklahoma House by Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City), an ardent theocrat who has declared the United States to be a “Christian nation,” passed the Oklahoma Senate 40-3 yesterday. It passed the House 81-11 in March.
HB 1060 is pretty simple. It “prohibits the application of foreign laws” when doing so would violate either the state or U.S. Constitution. It defines “foreign law” as anything based on a legal system from outside the United States.
It never mentions Islam specifically because “clever” lawmakers like Kern know they can’t try the exact same scheme twice. But in reality, they are trying the same scheme twice.
Once again, Americans United opposed this constitutionally dubious debacle. AU certainly does not want to see any legal system other than the U.S. Constitution applied within the United States. But there is no reason to formally ban outside laws because the Constitution already prohibits those codes from being applied in American courts.
There is also no known threat from shariah law to Oklahoma’s courts and it seems the true motivation of HB 1060 is nothing more than anti-Muslim sentiment.
In fact, this measure is based on the “American Laws for American Courts” bill, which was crafted by the American Public Policy Alliance, a group that argues shariah principles are creeping into U.S. courts, even though the cases cited by the organization are clearly mischaracterized.
It’s pretty ironic that legislators who are always pushing Ten Commandments bills now want to ban “foreign law.” According to the Bible, the Ten Commandments were handed down on Mount Sinai, not Black Mesa, which is reportedly the highest point in Oklahoma. Doesn’t that make the Ten Commandments “foreign law,” too?
Unfortunately Oklahoma isn’t the only state working to ban “foreign law.” In Florida, Americans United opposed a similar bill that passed a Senate committee this week. AU has also criticized anti-shariah bills this year in Missouri and Texas.
Just as the Constitution prohibits all U.S. governing bodies (this means you, North Carolina) from choosing an official religion, it also prevents those bodies from discriminating against specific religions or groups.
Sadly the Religious Right either can’t understand that constitutional concept, or simply chooses to ignore it. The only hope now is that if HB 1060 becomes law, federal courts will once again strike down this needless and mean-spirited legislative activity.
It’s a shame Oklahoma’s taxpayers may once again have to foot the bill for the folly of their elected officials.