Federal Appeals Court Considers Sharia Law

A federal appeals court in Denver is poised to hear arguments regarding the use of Sharia law in state court, a day after the somber ceremonies commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9-11.

A panel of judges from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will eventually decide whether a lower court judge was correct in blocking a 2010 ballot initiative forbidding Oklahoma courts from considering Islamic laws in the their decisions.

 Sharia law is broadly defined as a body of law based on Islam and its central religious text, the Quran.

 The ballot measure passed by a 70 percent margin but was immediately challenged by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The group argued the measure violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution forbidding the government from favoring one religion over another.

 U.S District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange blocked the measure in November 2010, ruling that any harm that would result from a delay in certifying the election results is “minimized” because the defendants were “not aware of any situation where Sharia Law has been applied in an Oklahoma court.” Judge Miles-LaGrange said that the challengers were likely to succeed on the merits of their case going forward.

In court documents defending the constitutionality of the measure, lawyers for the Oklahoma Attorney General said its “principle purpose” was to ban the Oklahoma courts from looking at the “precepts of other nations or cultures.”

They argue in court papers that the measure does not single out Sharia law. “The measure bans, equally, all laws from other nations or cultures, including, but not limited to international law and Sharia law,” according to the court papers.

But opponents of the measure say it “stigmatizes Islam.” In court briefs, lawyers for CAIR, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), write, “The State of Oklahoma makes no attempt to defend the practice of singling out one religious faith for official condemnation and disability.

“The measure tramples the free exercise rights of a disfavored minority faith and constrains the ability” of Muslims in Oklahoma to “execute valid wills, assert religious liberty claims under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, and enjoy equal access to the state judicial system,” they argue. 

They point out that Sharia Law is not outlined in any single document but is subject to “individual and communal” interpretations that differ across denominations among Muslims.