Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, November 2010
Oklahoma's Anti-Islam Ballot Measure Challenged as Un-Constitutional
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, November 8, 2010
The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations today filed a lawsuit at the US District Court of Oklahoma saying that an anti-Islam (Sharia ban) state ballot measure passed in November 2 election violates the U.S. Constitution.
The ballot measure 755 prohibits Okalhoma courts from considering Islamic Sharia law when deciding cases. In the current anti-Islam and anti-Muslim environment prevailing in the nation over the Park51 project, known at Ground Zero Mosque in New York, nearly 70 percent of voters in the state cast ballots approving the measure.
When the voting results are certified November 9, the measure would amend the Oklahoma state constitution to forbid judges from considering Islamic principles (Shariah) or international law when making a ruling.
The lawsuit was filed by CAIR-Oklahoma Executive Director Muneer Awad as an individual seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent final certification of the amendment by the Oklahoma State Board of Elections.
The CAIR lawsuit argued that the ballot measure will infringe on the constitutional rights of ordinary Oklahomans in their daily lives -- including the right to wear religious head scarves, choose Islamic marriage contracts or to be buried according to one's religious beliefs.
The lawsuit states: "In the present matter...this Court need not conduct a probing inquiry to reveal the purpose of the Shariah Ban. This is because the measure’s architects have not asserted a secular purpose. Instead, the authors of the Shariah Ban identified repeatedly in print and on video a sectarian purpose. Representative Rex Duncan, the House author of the Shariah Ban, announced on television that 'America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles' and the Shariah Ban’s purpose was to ensure that Oklahoma’s courts are not used to 'undermine those founding principles.'"
It states that the amendment "denigrates Plaintiff’s standing in the political community by transforming Oklahoma’s constitution into an enduring condemnation of Plaintiff’s faith." According to the lawsuit, "The Shariah Ban singles out Plaintiff’s faith, but no other faith, for special restrictions."
The lawsuit also claims that the proposition also violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause since it "targets Plaintiff’s religious conduct because a currently disliked religious tradition inspired it...Indeed, the only interest consistent with both the language and operation of the Shariah Ban is an interest in harming an unpopular minority...The goal was to stigmatize Islam by establishing in the public’s mind that Islam is something foreign and to be feared."
Constitutional scholars say that the way the law singles out a particular religion violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but also point out that Shariah law has never been used in Oklahoma court decisions anyway. Judges exclusively use state and federal law to guide their decisions.
"Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don't cry," Rick Tepker of the University of Oklahoma Law School told CNN. "I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn't that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren't going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin."
The main sponsor of the measure, Representative Rex Duncan has said he knew of no precedent in the state's history in which a judge applied Sharia law. But he backed the measure as a "pre-emptive strike." Tellingly, in March 2009, Duncan proposed legislation to ban religious headwear in driver's license and other identification card photos. The bill was rejected by the Oklahoma legislature.
A campaign called Act! For America, had launched a "media blitz" in the state of Oklahoma in support of the anti-Islam measure. The campaign included a radio ad and opinion articles in state newspapers. Muslim-basher President of ACT, Brigitte Gabriel, stated, "We want to make sure that the people in Oklahoma are educated about what Shariah law is all about and its ramifications. We're not taking any chances with this initiative passing marginally. We hope it passes with great victory."
For months, legal experts and newspapers had lambasted the initiative as biased toward a religion. Representative Cory Williams stated, "If I was a Muslim Oklahoman, I would be offended by my religion being singled out.”
Jari Askins, gubernatorial candidate, was against the measure, stating: "The last time I looked at my old notes from law school, most of America’s jurisprudence system was based on England and jurisprudence there, so I think we need to be, really, smarter, about how we phrase some of these things”.
The Oklahoma Daily was against the measure, stating, that “the measure implies Oklahoma’s Muslims are all extremists trying to subvert U.S. laws. Let’s not marginalize the state’s Muslim population."
Another newspaper, The Oklahoman, described it as another feel-good measure that has no practical effect and needn't be added to the Oklahoma Constitution. “Passing the question might make some politicians happy and make some Oklahomans feel better. That's all it would do. Voters should reject it as unnecessary.”
Chuck Thornton, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, addressing a news conference in Oklahoma City with CAIR Executive Director Muneer, said that the ACLU is not part of this lawsuit, but commended his group for taking on the "battle" against the measure. "It's interesting that they (legislators) have found a solution where there was, in fact, no problem," Thornton said. "It's an attempt to demonize a segment of our population."
Nathaniel Batchelder, co-chairman of the Central Oklahoma Human Rights Association, corroborated with Thornton when he said the measure was an "anti-Muslim slap in the face designed to inflame voters."
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah & ccun.org.
email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org