Oklahoma Sharia Ban Is Unconstitutional, AU Tells Appeals Court

An Oklahoma constitutional amendment that purports to ban Islamic law in the state singles out Muslims for discrimination and should not be enforced, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a federal appeals court.

In November of 2010, Oklahoma voters approved a so-called “Save Our State Amendment” barring enforcement of sharia. Although there has been no attempt to impose Islamic law in the state, the measure passed easily with 70 percent of the vote.

A lawsuit against the amendment was filed by Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Council for American-Islamic Relations. In November, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a preliminary injunction in Awad v. Ziriax, to stop the Oklahoma State Election Board from certifying the election results. That decision is now on appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Americans United and allied groups argue that the provision is unconstitutional.

“The amendment singles out one faith tradition for government hostility,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “That violates our fundamental constitutional requirement that government remain neutral on religion.”

Added Lynn, “Oklahoma doesn’t need a special amendment to protect it from government-imposed Islamic law. The First Amendment already does that. I think we all know that sharia has no chance of taking over Oklahoma. This entire incident has been a sad example of politically motivated religious intolerance.”

In the May 16 friend-of-the-court brief, Americans United urged the appeals court to void the amendment.

The brief asserts that the amendment was passed after a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment that was often led by state legislators. The amendment, the groups argue, sends a clear message of governmental disapproval of Islam.

“[A] provision like the Save Our State Amendment communicates to Muslims that they – and they alone – are likely to receive inferior treatment on account of their religion,” asserts the brief.

The brief was drafted by the American Jewish Committee and attorneys Craig C. Martin and Joshua M. Segal of the firm of Jenner & Block LLP, with input from attorneys at Americans United and other organizations.

Other groups joining the brief are 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.