March 2012 Church & State | People & Events

A federal appeals court has ruled 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 injunction blocking implementation of the so-called “Save Our State” amendment. The measure was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in 2010, even though there is no drive to impose sharia in the state.

Americans United welcomed the ruling.

“This amendment is divisive, unnecessary and dangerous,” said 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.”

After the amendment passed, a lawsuit against it was filed by Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Council for American-Islamic Relations, along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Americans United argued that the amendment is unconstitutional and was motivated by anti-Muslim bias. The organization pointed out that the amendment is unnecessary, since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars the implementation of any religious code in the law.

Americans United’s friend-of-the-court brief argued that the amendment 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 also signed the brief.

Upholding the lower court, the three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled against the amendment.

“[State officials] do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve,” wrote Judge Scott M. Matheson. “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 Oklahoma amendment is simply an excuse for Islam bashing, and it’s an embarrassment to the state.”