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Why American Indians Are Watching The Fate Of The Oklahoma Sharia Ban

27 November 2010 General 4 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

So far, the outrage over the so-called Sharia ban Oklahoma voters approved this month has focused on the freedom of religion of the state’s Muslim residents, culminating in a lawsuit by a CAIR official that has successfully stalled the law from going into effect.

But there’s another minority the ban could affect: American Indians.

The proposed constitutional amendment, approved by voters in a 70-30 margin, would prohibit state courts from considering not only Sharia law, but international law — defined as the law of other “countries, states and tribes.”

Oklahoma has a relatively large population of American Indians, who make up about eight percent of the state population, compared to one percent of the country as a whole. Part of the reason so many Indians live in the state is forced relocation programs like the Trail of Tears, which moved tribes from land in the Deep South to what the federal government had designated Indian territory in Oklahoma.

It’s possible the amendment could affect how disputes between Indians and non-Indians are settled in state courts, as well as the many historic treaties between tribes and the U.S.

Last year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that personal injury lawsuits, filed by non-Indian casino patrons, could be tried in state court. It’s still messy, though: Several tribes have entered arbitration with the state over the rulings, and some of their motions are still pending.

And then there are the treaties between the state’s tribes and the federal government. The ban specifically defines international treaties as a “source of international law.” So how would the Indian treaties be treated?

No one really knows, yet. Tribes and tribal lawyers are waiting to see what happens, mostly voicing private concerns but no official positions.

“It wouldn’t seem like it would be legal,” Chris White, director of governmental affairs for the Osage Nation, told Indian Country Today. “I’m not an attorney, but that’s the reason why the people I’ve talked to about it are concerned. They’re concerned about the treaties.”

Barbara Warner, the executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, told the Norman Transcript she’s heard concerns that the law could be “detrimental” to the tribes.

An Oklahoma University law professor, Taiawagi Helton, who specializes in tribal law, told the Transcript the language is too “ambiguous” and allows ways for the “opportunistic” to avoid tribal law that would hurt their case. But he added that he believes the law will be struck down.

“The likely effect is it won’t have much effect at all,” he said.

The amendment is barred from going into effect until Nov. 29, when a federal judge will rule on CAIR’s legal challenge.

Original post: Why American Indians Are Watching The Fate Of The Oklahoma Sharia Ban


  1. We have a justice system, like it or not. No other religion in this country is allowed to place their own internal rules over federal and state laws. Neither should American Muslims.

  2. Michelle, have you seen any sign, anywhere, that any American Muslims have tried to do so and what do you think of the implications of this attempt to prevent a phantom menace: the possible abrogation of Native Americans’ sovereign rights?

  3. How about a constitutional amendment specifically prohibiting state courts from considering Christian law as well?

    I suspect this amendment is actually designed to be a foot in the door to invalidate Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which states:

    “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

    This would include “Treaties” like the Geneva Accords which outlaw torture.

  4. Michele:

    Several points…
    We only wish we had “a justice system”. We all know that there are at least three justice systems in this country. 1) for political leaders, 2) for the wealthy and/or famous, 3) for the rest of us.

    That said I’ll move onto the subject at hand… native American are not a religious group. They are by signed treaty an independent nation. I realize the relationships between the U.S. and the various Indian nations are complex, but the basic relationship is between different independent political entities.

    The article is discussing an unintended consequence of a Oklahoma law apparently promulgated on the assumption that we can learn absolutely nothing about justice from international law or any other country.

    That we are that arrogant is really rather sad.

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