Islamic Sharia Law to Be Banned in, ah, OklahomaJames Cohen on ABC News, June 14, 2010
Oklahoma is poised to become the first state in the
nation to ban state judges from relying on Islamic law
known as Sharia when deciding cases.
The ban is a cornerstone of a "Save our State"
amendment to the Oklahoma constitution that was
recently approved by the Legislature.
The amendment -- which also would forbid judges
from using international laws as a basis for decisions
-- will now be put before Oklahoma's voters in
November. Approval is expected.
Oklahoma has few Muslims – only 30,000 out of a
population of 3.7 million. The prospect of sharia
being applied there seems remote. But a chief
architect of the measure, Republican State Rep. Rex
Duncan, calls the proposed ban a necessary
"preemptive strike" against Islamic law coming to the
"I see this in the future somewhere in America,"
Duncan, who chairs the state House Judiciary
Committee, told ABC News. "It's not an imminent threat
in Oklahoma yet, but it's a storm on the horizon in
Sharia – which means "path" in Arabic – governs many
aspects of Muslim life and influences the legal code
in a majority of Muslim countries.
There are many interpretations of what Sharia means,
but in some countries strict interpretations "are used
to justify cruel punishments such an amputation and
stoning as well as unequal treatment of women in
inheritance, dress and independence," according to
the Council on Foreign Relations.
Sharia has gained a toehold in some western
countries, notably Great Britain, where five sharia
courts have been established to settle certain
disputes among Muslims, with the government's
The proposed Oklahoma amendment is aimed, in part,
"Cases of first impression are rare," said Jim Cohen, a
professor at the Fordham University School of Law in
New York City, adding, "I have never heard of a case"
Cohen added that he questions whether the proposed
amendment would pass constitutional muster.
"Our federal system and our state system is in part
governed by the concept of separation of powers. It's
far from clear that the Oklahoma legislature can
restrict what a separate branch of government can
consider in terms of doing its job – in this case,
deciding cases," he said.
"I think this is a political statement against Muslims
and, inferentially, in support of United States values,"
Duncan said that is not the case. "The only entities
that could oppose this measure are those that
admittedly support applying international law and
sharia law in American courts. If that's what they think
they need to be bold enough to say so."
at "cases of first impression," legal disputes in which
there is no law or precedent to resolve the matter at
In such cases, judges might look to laws or rulings in
other jurisdictions for guidance. The proposed
amendment would block judges in Oklahoma courts
from drawing on sharia, or the laws of other nations,
in such decisions.
The amendment also is a response to what some
conservatives see as a pernicious trend -- cases of
liberal judges mostly notably Supreme Court Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, using foreign laws to shape
their opinions in U.S. cases.
"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."
Legal experts contacted by ABC News said they did
not know of one instance of a judge in the U.S.
invoking sharia in rendering a decision.