NYT: Intolerance and the Law in Oklahoma
For a few days this month, it was illegal in Oklahoma for a state judge to base a court decision on Islamic religious law or consider any form of international law. It was a manufactured problem; the issue has never come up in the state’s courts. But more than 70 percent of voters in Oklahoma still approved a state constitutional amendment to that effect, apparently persuaded by anti-Islamic activists, and a few cynical politicians, that Oklahoma was about to be brought under Islam’s heel.
After Muslim groups challenged the constitutionality of the “Save Our State Amendment,” a federal district judge issued a temporary restraining order. Last Monday, the judge, Vicki Miles-LaGrange, held a hearing to determine whether to issue a preliminary injunction against the measure, and said she would make a decision by the end of November. A federal injunction is warranted to save Oklahoma from its pernicious folly and to prevent other states from following the same path.
Islam-bashing for political gain was a chilling feature of this year’s campaign. The proposed Islamic center and mosque in downtown Manhattan was publicly announced last year, but no one paid much attention until activists began loudly denouncing it in the middle of the midterm election campaign. Right-wing groups then made commercials attacking several Democratic candidates for respecting the First Amendment and saying they had no problems with the project.
Islamic law, known as Shariah, is no threat to our legal system and is not in force anywhere in the United States except within a religious community, in the same manner as Jewish Halakhic law or Catholic canon law.
Nonetheless, supporters of the amendment raised absurd fears that it could entangle the American courts at any minute. Rex Duncan, a Republican state representative and the author of the ballot measure, told The Los Angeles Times that Oklahoma does not yet have that problem. “But why wait until it’s in the courts?” he asked. He has also said that Muslims want to take away American liberties and freedom.
It is fear-mongering, of course, and all too successful. As James McKinley Jr. recentlyreported in The Times, the issue helped drive the high Republican turnout at the polls in Oklahoma.
That, combined with the national Republican wave, helped give the party veto-proof control of the Legislature and a Republican governor for the first time. Now Republicans in several other states are talking about similar measures. Muslim leaders in Oklahoma say they are getting more hate mail.
It’s bad enough that in its hatred the state amendment singles out a religion’s law for condemnation, in violation of the nation’s Constitution. Or that it forbids a longstanding practice of mentioning the laws of other nations in a legal ruling. It is not even clear what the implications might be if the courts allowed this measure.
Would private contracts or wills drawn up under religious law, a common practice, be unenforceable, or only those drawn up by Muslims? Could a judge refer to the Bible in a ruling, but not the Koran? How about the Book of Mormon or the teachings of Confucius?
The voters of Oklahoma were badly misled by demagogues into passing a profoundly un-American measure. Now it is up to the federal courts to prevent the hatred from spreading further.
Original post: NYT: Intolerance and the Law in Oklahoma