Human Rights

Sorry, Oklahoma — Federal Court Says State Cannot Write Anti-Islamic Bigotry Into Its Constitution

Conservative lawmakers spend their time trying to ban non-existent practices.

Photo Credit: Studio

On Thursday, a federal court permanently struck down an amendment to Oklahoma’s constitution that would have banned the non-existent practice of Oklahoma courts replacing American law with Islamic law, among other things. The unconstitutional amendment provided that “[t]he courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia law.” A federal appeals court previously upheld a temporary injunction blocking the Oklahoma amendment; Thursday’s decision holds that the injunction should be permanent.

There was never any serious doubt that this attempt to write animus towards Muslims into a state constitution violates the United States Constitution. As the Supreme Court held 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 issuediscriminates against some or all religious beliefs or regulates or prohibits conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.” Moreover, it’s not even clear what the explicitly anti-Islamic language in this amendment was supposed to accomplish. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit explained in upholding the temporary injunction against the amendment, Oklahoma officials “did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.”

Nevertheless, similar attempts to ban Islamic law or otherwise prevent courts from seeking guidance from foreign sources are common among conservative lawmakers. As a recent Center for American Progress report explains, “lawmakers in 32 states have introduced and debated these types of bills. Foreign law bans have already been enacted in Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arizona, while a related ban on the enforcement of ‘any religious code’ has been enacted in South Dakota.”

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Ian Milhiser is a Policy Analyst and Blogger on legal issues at the Center for American Progress and the CAP Action Fund.