Hate rolls on.
By Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY
Muneer Awad’s opponents label him “a foreigner” trying to change Oklahoma’s laws.
Awad, 27, a recent University of Georgia law school graduate born in Michigan, says he’s standing up for the U.S. Constitution. “I’m trying to defend the First Amendment,” says Awad, director of Oklahoma’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
At issue is an amendment to Oklahoma’s constitution passed overwhelmingly on Election Day that bars judges from considering Islamic or international law in Oklahoma state courts. Awad sued, and last week a federal judge temporarily blocked the law from taking effect while she determines whether it violates the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits establishment of a state religion.
Although Oklahoma’s law is the first to come under court scrutiny, legislators in at least seven states, including Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, have proposed similar laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures says. Tennessee and Louisiana have enacted versions of the law banning use of foreign law under certain circumstances.
Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House, is pushing for a federal law that “clearly and unequivocally states that we’re not going to tolerate any imported law.”
Based on Quran
Islamic law or sharia, which means “path” in Arabic, is a code of conduct governing all aspects of Muslim life, including family relationships, business dealings and religious obligations. It is based on the Quran, or Muslim holy book, and the teachings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Islamic countries operating under the guidance of sharia may have varying interpretations of the code.
Awad says the Oklahoma law would prohibit a judge from probating his will, written in compliance with Islamic principles, or adjudicating other domestic matters such as divorces and custody disputes involving Muslims.
Supporters of sharia bans, including Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, say Islamic law is creeping into U.S. courts.
Earlier this year, for example, an appeals court in New Jersey overturned a state court judge’s refusal to issue a restraining order against a Muslim man who forced his wife to engage in sexual intercourse. The judge found that the man did not intend to rape his wife because he believed his religion permitted him to have sex with her whenever he desired.
The case “presents a conflict between the criminal law and religious precepts,” the appeals court wrote. “In resolving this conflict, the judge determined to except (the husband) from the operation of the State’s statutes as the result of his religious beliefs. In doing so, the judge was mistaken.”
Gaffney’s think tank recently published a book that argues jihadists who want worldwide Islamic rule try to establish sharia courts to weaken democracies. “I think you’re seeing people coalesce around legislation of the kind that was passed in Oklahoma,” Gaffney says.
South Carolina legislators proposed a resolution in April that says state courts “shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider Sharia Law” or other international laws.
In Utah, Rep. Carl Wimmer, a Republican from Salt Lake County, withdrew his bill to ban foreign law after he learned that it could harm banking and international businesses. “My bill was just too broad,” he says.
Wimmer says he’s concerned about “increasing amount of judges who continue to look to foreign law and foreign courts to make their decisions.”
“It’s not an issue in Utah,” he says, “but I wanted to make sure it doesn’t become an issue in Utah.”
‘Just fear mongering’
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for CAIR, sees the laws as an indication of growing anti-Muslim sentiment. “I’ve never seen it like this, even after 9/11,” Hooper says. “In another time, this would be laughed out of the Oklahoma Legislature.”
Islamic principles are interpreted differently in different parts of the world, Hooper says. “We have not found any conflict between what a Muslim needs to do to practice their faith and the Constitution or any other American laws,” Hooper says. “We are, in fact, relying on the Constitution as our last line of defense.”
Americans have no reason to fear sharia law in America, says Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which advocates for religious freedom.
However, Lynn says he expects to see more attempts to ban sharia law regardless of the outcome in Oklahoma.
“It’s just fear mongering tinged with anti-Islamic sentiment,” he says.
Oklahoma’s attorney general will ask an appeals court to lift the injunction and allow the law to take effect.
Constitutional expert Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at University of California-Irvine, says the Oklahoma law won’t stand because it discriminates against one religion and violates the requirement for “full faith and credit,” which requires Oklahoma courts to enforce judgments from other states and countries.
“There is no blossoming of sharia law in Oklahoma,” says Randall Coyne, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. “There’s no risk of Oklahoma falling under the sway of sharia law or any other law other than American law for that matter. It’s fear mongering at its worst.”