By DAVID HARPER World Staff Writer on Aug 16, 2013, at 2:28 AM
Updated on 8/16/13 at 3:02 AM
An Oklahoma constitutional amendment that would bar the state’s courts from considering or using Sharia law was ruled unconstitutional Thursday by a federal judge in Oklahoma City.
In finding the law in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the certification of the results of the state question that put the Sharia law ban into the state constitution.
“While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out, the Court finds that the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual’s constitutional rights,” the judge wrote.
Muneer Awad, a Muslim and American citizen who was executive director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations at the time, filed the lawsuit on Nov. 4, 2010, seeking to block the so-called “Save Our State” constitutional amendment that had been approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters two days earlier.
Awad claimed that State Question 755 violated the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Miles-LaGrange issued a temporary restraining order on Nov. 8, 2010, finding that enjoining the certification of the election results for SQ 755 would not be adverse to the public interest.
On Nov. 29, 2010, she issued a preliminary injunction, finding that Awad had legal standing and that SQ 755 likely violated both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause.
Miles-LaGrange also found then that the balance of harms weighed strongly in favor of Awad, that the alleged violation of Awad’s First Amendment rights constituted irreparable injury and that the public interest demanded protection of these rights.
On Jan. 10, 2012, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Miles-Grange’s preliminary injunction ruling, and on July 29, 2012, the lawsuit was amended, adding four additional plaintiffs.
In her opinion Thursday, Miles-LaGrange noted that the 10th Circuit wrote in January 2012 that “when the law that voters wish to enact is likely unconstitutional, their interests do not outweigh Mr. Awad’s in having his constitutional rights protected.”
Miles-LaGrange found “that any harm that would result from permanently enjoining the certification of the election results is further minimized in light of the undisputed fact that the amendment at issue was to be a preventative measure and that the concern that it seeks to address has yet to occur.”
She pointed out in a footnote that attorneys defending the amendment at the November 2010 preliminary injunction hearing admitted that “they did not know of any instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.”
Miles-LaGrange also rejected the argument that the amendment could be salvaged by severing certain language that specifically mentioned Sharia law. That option would have retained less precise wording saying that Oklahoma courts “shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.”
The judge wrote in her order that “it is abundantly clear that the primary purpose of the amendment was to specifically target and outlaw Sharia law and to act as a preemptive strike against Sharia law to protect Oklahoma from a perceived ‘threat’ of Sharia law being utilized in Oklahoma courts.”
She added that the plaintiffs “have shown that the voters would not have approved the amendment without the unconstitutional provisions.”
She noted that “the public debate, public discussions, articles, radio ads and robocalls” regarding SQ 755 all primarily and overwhelmingly focused on Sharia law. “Given this context, the court finds any reasonable voter would have perceived SQ 755 as a referendum on Sharia law,” she wrote.
Awad moved to New York City in August 2012 to accept a position with another CAIR affiliate, according to Thursday’s opinion.
On Thursday night, Adam Soltani, the current executive director of CAIR’s Oklahoma Chapter and a fellow plaintiff in the lawsuit, issued a statement in which he said: “As Oklahomans, we are incredibly thrilled at the decision and applaud the judicial system for upholding our constitutional rights. This is a victory not only for Oklahoma Muslims, but for all Oklahomans and all Americans.”
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, issued a written statement saying: “This law unfairly singled out one faith and one faith only. This amendment was nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. We’re thrilled that it has been struck down.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in the wake of the appellate court decision in January 2012 that his office “will continue to defend” the state’s position.
However, spokeswoman Diane Clay said Pruitt would have no comment on Thursday night.
Despite the legal setbacks for SQ 755, Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 1060 into law last April. Proponents said that without specifically mentioning Sharia law, the measure would prohibit the application of foreign laws when it would violate either the Oklahoma Constitution or the U.S. Constitution.
David Harper 918-581-8359