Last November, a federal district judge suspended an anti-Islamic Oklahoma constitutional amendment almost immediately after it was passed. Under that amendment,
[Oklahoma] courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.
Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit will hear an appeal of the decision striking down this Islamophobic amendment.
It is not exactly clear just what this amendment is supposed to accomplish, beyond simply expressing the view that Oklahoma doesn’t like Muslims. Lexis’ extensive database of state judicial decisions does not contain a single Oklahoma court case that even mentions Sharia or Islamic law, so the risk of Oklahoma judges suddenly being swept away by their desire to replace American law with Sharia law is simply nonexistent.
Moreover, the fact that Oklahoma’s amendment serves no purpose other than to single out Muslims for discriminatory treatment brings it into direct conflict with the First Amendment’s guarantee that all people can freely exercise their faith. As the Supreme Court explained in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, “[a]t a minimum, the protections of the Free Exercise Clause pertain if the law at issue discriminates against some or all religious beliefs or regulates or prohibits conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.”
The panel in this case includes one George W. Bush appointee, a Carter appointee, and an Obama appointee, so there is minimal risk that a majority of the panel will decide to simply thumb their nose at Lukumi and uphold the amendment (although there is a slight risk that the court could dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction). Hopefully, this court hearing will put an effective end to Oklahoma’s flirtation with officially sanctioned Islamophobia.