AJC Brief: Oklahoma Anti-Sharia Provision Unconstitutionally Targets Islam

May 16, 2011 – New York – AJC is urging a federal appeals court to block implementing a new Oklahoma provision targeting Sharia law.

“Singling out the religious law of one faith is simply unconstitutional and smacks of fear-mongering,” said AJC Associate General Counsel Marc D. Stern.

In a brief filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in the case of Awad v. Ziriax, AJC argues that an Oklahoma constitutional provision adopted by referendum last November banning Oklahoma courts from relying on Sharia law is “flagrantly unconstitutional” for violating the “core nondiscrimination command of the Establishment Clause.”

The brief points out that there is no mistaking the discriminatory purposes of the provision’s sponsors. They and their supporters repeatedly said that the proposal was intended to ward off the threat—of which there was no evidence—of an Islamic law takeover of Oklahoma’s courts. The proposal, AJC notes, did not ban reliance on other forms of religious law, including Jewish and canon law.

AJC is asking the appellate court to uphold a lower court decision granting a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the provision, known as State Question 755.

References to other forms of international law were a fig leaf designed to distract attention from its real purpose, which is “to express government disapproval of the Islamic tradition,” the AJC brief states.

“In a nation that treasures religious freedom and whose Constitution forbids government to have favored or disfavored faiths, the Oklahoma provision cannot stand,” said Stern.

“Whether or not the provision would in any way affect Jewish religious practice, including forbidding the voluntary referral of disputes for resolution by Jewish tribunals,” said Stern, “the precedent of government singling out an unpopular religion for condemnation is dangerous.”

Joining AJC in the brief were the Anti-Defamation League, Union of Reform Judaism, Interfaith Alliance, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism.

The brief was prepared for AJC by the firm of Jenner & Block.

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