Why Is Oklahoma Trying to Ban Sharia Law in Courts?

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Next week, Oklahoma voters will decide on State Question 755, a ballot initiative that proposes three measures. In the bill's own language: "It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law." The last item has generated the most surprise. Oklahoma courts don't ever cite Islamic Sharia law in their decisions, so why even propose a measure against it? Onlookers suspect state Republicans are using Islamic law as a bogeyman issue to drive voter turnout.

  • Sharia's Not Really a Big Problem in Oklahoma  "Supporters of the initiative acknowledge that they do not know of a single case of Sharia being used in Oklahoma, which has only 15,000 Muslims," Nicholas Riccardi reports at the Los Angeles Times. The measure's advocates cite three court cases in other states where Sharia played some role in the decision. "Oklahoma does not have that problem yet," said State Representative Rex Duncan, the author of State Question 755. "But why wait until it's in the courts?"
  • The New Wedge Issue  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder guesses that "anti-Sharia law initiatives" may become "a cultural wedge issue the GOP uses to ensure that hard-core conservatives enthusiastically flock to the polls. If so, then Oklahoma is the proverbial canary in the coal mine for this type of initiative." Ambinder predicts that if State Question 755 "over-performs in November," we can expect "a potential wave of 'preemptive strikes' against Sharia law in the years ahead."
  • Just Meant to Flush Out the Hard-Liners  For Teddy Partridge at Firedoglake, the intention here is clear. "American voters, especially inward-looking, family-oriented fundies, must be constantly re-entertained to be electorally motivated," he writes. "'Gay marriage' got the fundie preachers' flocks up and out of the pews to vote in 2004 ... Of course, that Sharia law poses absolutely no threat to American jurisprudence makes no difference whatsoever. Marriage equality hasn't ended 'traditional marriage' anywhere, has it?"
  • How This Would Work, In Practice  At Not a Potted Plant, the blogger Burt Likko breaks down the measure's three points. "Measure 755 makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases," he writes. "Do you mean to suggest they aren't already doing that now? Of course they are." The point about Sharia law would, in effect, "prevent courts from enforcing private contracts in which the parties mutually agreed upon the use of Sharia laws--restricting the right of free people to contract as they choose." Finally, the point about international law "means that an Oklahoma state court would have to disregard international agreements and treaties if those were invoked in a particular dispute... The authors of Measure 755 should read Article VI of the United States Constitution. Doing so would remind them that they are obligated as state legislators to uphold the United States Constitution and treaties made thereunder--something which they are in fact attempting to subvert with this law."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.