Nov. 9 (Westlaw Journals) - A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state of Oklahoma from certifying a voter initiative making it unconstitutional to practice Muslim Shariah law.
Muneer Awad, a practicing Muslim, filed suit against the state and Paul Ziriax, the director of the Oklahoma State Board of Elections, seeking to prevent certification of State Question 755, which was approved by a wide margin of the state’s voters on Nov. 2. Certification would put the law into immediate effect.
State Question 755 amends Article 7, Section I of Oklahoma's constitution. The initiative was described on the ballot to voters as a directive to state courts to “rely on federal and state law when deciding cases,” according to the suit. The description states that the amendment would “forbid courts from considering or using international law.” It would also “forbid courts from considering or using Shariah Law.”
Awad argues that the law violates his freedom to practice his religion as Shariah law includes many commonplace rules, such as fair dealing, that are part of his faith. In addition, he contends that the initiative has a sectarian purpose and the illicit effect of discrediting his faith.
“The Shariah Ban, because the text only mentions and restricts the religious traditions upon which plaintiff draws his faith, will imply to Oklahomans that there is something especially nefarious about the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed that justifies its exclusion from state courts,” the complaint says.
U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange held a hearing Monday in which she found that Awad has standing to bring suit and that he has made a preliminary showing that the new law would violate his rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She issued a temporary restraining order and set a hearing for Nov. 22 to decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction.
The case is Awad v. Ziriax, No. 10-1186, W.D. Okla. (Filed Nov. 4, 2010). Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, is representing himself. Scott Boughton of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office represents the state.
(Reporting by Jodine Mayberry, senior Web editor)