Judge puts hold on Okla. anti-Shariah amendment

November 10, 2010

(RNS) Lawyers for the Oklahoma Attorney General's office have two
weeks to convince a federal judge to remove a temporary hold on a
voter-approved state constitutional amendment that prohibits courts from
considering Islamic law.

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a temporary
restraining order on Monday (Nov. 8) after Muslims sued to block the
referendum, which was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters on Nov.
2.

Muneer Awad, executive director of the state chapter of the Council
on American-Islamic Relations, sued to block enforcement, alleging the
referendum violates First Amendment prohibitions against religious
discrimination and government-supported religion.

"A state should never approve or disapprove of a religion," said
Awad.

The referendum, he argued, "says Islam is so uniquely threatening to
the American way of life that it needs to be singled out as dangerous in
the Oklahoma constitution. That stigmatizes Muslims in Oklahoma and
Muslims all over America."

State Rep. Rex Duncan and state Sen. Anthony Sykes, the two lead
Republican backers of the referendum, did not return calls seeking
comment about the judge's decision.

In an earlier interview, Duncan described Islamic law, or Shariah,
as a threat to the American legal system.

"Shariah law is a competing constitution. It's nothing less than
that," Duncan said. "It's just an oppressive, barbaric treatment of
women. Any educated woman on Shariah issues would certainly be against
it. So we're going to force our courts to rely on the U.S. Constitution
and statutes, and state constitution statutes."

The Oklahoma State Election Board, which is charged with certifying
the referendum's approval by state voters, is being defended by the
Oklahoma Attorney General's office, which also did not return phone
calls.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Boughton told the judge that the
referendum did not present an imminent danger to Muslims, and that Awad
had no legal standing to sue in state courts.

When Miles-LaGrange reconvenes the court on Nov. 22, she will decide
whether to let her restraining order expire or to apply a more permanent
injunction against the referendum as legal battles continue.