Federal judges in Oklahoma tasked with deciding on the constitutionality of a ban on Sharia law have asked lawyers why the ban singles out Islam, framing a larger question of a hot-button issue regarding the influence of Islam in American public life.
“The intent here was to exclude Sharia law and international law,” Oklahoma Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick, who argued in defense of the ban becoming part of the state’s constitution, told judges on Monday.
Judge Scott Matheson asked, “Why is there any need to mention Sharia law?”
Wyrick replied, “To avoid confusion,” according to Reuters.
The controversial ban, entitled State Question 775 (SQ 775) and also known as the “Save Our State” amendment, would prevent judges from using Sharia law and international law as a basis for their court decisions.
Extremely popular among Oklahoma residents, the ban was approved by 70.8 percent of voters.
Former Republican State Rep. Rex Duncan, the main driving force behind SQ 775, argues the ban is a necessary “pre-emptive strike” against the threat of Islamic law taking over the state.
The Los Angeles Times reports?that supporters of the ban did not know of a single case of Sharia being used in Oklahoma, home to about 15,000 Muslims.
“It’s not an imminent threat in Oklahoma yet,” Duncan said. “But it’s a storm on the horizon in other states.”
Opponents of the ban say it is nothing but a baseless attack against Muslims as well as an attack on religion as a whole.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Michael Salem, arguing against the ban, said that if the law were upheld, it would “condemn every person of Islamic belief in the state of Oklahoma. They will no longer be welcome.”
Salem told judges Monday, “It would only take 50 percent plus one to ban the next religion.”
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the ban on behalf of Muneer Awad, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
A U.S. district judge in Oklahoma City issued a court order last November barring the measure from becoming effective while Awad’s case was under review.
The Oklahoma Elections Board then petitioned the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to set aside the injunction, and a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit heard arguments from the two sides on Monday.
According to ABC News, the ban comes on the heels of Sharia law being implemented to a limited extent in Great Britain for marriage and contract disputes among Muslims.
Supporters of the Sharia ban also fear liberal judges might use foreign laws to shape thier opinions.
“It should not matter what France might do, what Great Britain might do, or what the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might do,” Duncan said. “Court decisions ought to be based on federal law, or state law.”
However, some commentators, such as the National Journal’s Marc Ambinder, have said the Sharia ban in a state with few Muslims and no cases of Sharia being used in courts is simply an attempt to create a new “wedge issue,” such as abortion or gay marriage, which tend to drive conservative voters to the polls.
Aside from the various allegations that the ban is an attack on Islam or a political wedge issue, legal experts believe that the technicalities of the law are what deem it unconstitutional.
Norman Dorsen, a constitutional law professor at New York University, says the language the ban presents interferes with the separation of powers, a core aspect of the U.S. Constitution.
SQ 775 would “interfere with the independence of the judiciary,” Dorsen told The Christian Post. “If a judge thinks a law in Germany or Argentina is relevant to his decision, that’s his choice. The legislature can’t interfere with how he makes a decision.”