It’s just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen. Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to ban courts in the state from considering Islamic sharia law when considering cases. It also forbids courts to look to the legal precepts of other nations or consider international law when deciding cases. Each of these provisions is so idiotic that I don’t even know where to start.
State Question 755 (ominously called the Save Our State Amendment) added this to the Oklahoma Constitution (italics mine):
The Courts…when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, the Oklahoma Statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include Sharia Law, in making judicial decisions. The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.
This whole thing started because an Oklahoma state representative heard about a case in New Jersey where a trial judge ruled against a woman seeking a restraining order because her husband was acting on his religious beliefs. The trial judge was promptly reversed by an appellate court, but the matter did not even involved sharia. In the New Jersey case, the trial judge did not say that since sharia allows the husband to force himself on his wife, he is entitled to do so. The trial judge said that the man’s sincere religious belief prevented him from forming the necessary mens rea to constitute marital rape. The judge was wrong and justice prevailed.
Another sponsor of the measure fretted because England has embraced 85 sharia courts, “while Oklahoma is still able to defend itself against this sort of hideous invasion, we should do so.” The only problem is that England has not embraced 85 sharia courts. England has 85 sharia courts (or at least the Daily Mail tells us so), but that’s like saying Oklahoma has 111 Rotary Clubs. Has Oklahoma embraced the Rotary Clubs? Are Oklahoma courts bound to consider the decisions of Rotary Clubs which have hideously invaded the state, unless a constitutional amendment is passed?
People can voluntarily be a part of any organization. The only thing the sharia courts offer that is different is a forum for alternative dispute resolution. ADR is an increasingly popular thing. The idea is that litigants can chose a mediator or arbitrator to help them settle their differences. This saves the courts time and the parties money. Often lots of money. If both of the litigants are Muslims, there is no reason they cannot choose to have a dispute abitrated by other Muslims. If it is a matter which requires court approval, they can then enter a consent order with the court. As long as the agreement between the parties is consistent with the law, the court will usually approve the order. That is what some courts in England have done with sharia court decisions.
But this is nothing new. Courts in both England and the United States have often approved consent orders that are the results of beth din rulings. A beth din is the equivalent of a sharia court for Orthodox Jews. If both parties are Orthodox Jews and want to have their dispute settled in accordance with Jewish law, they come before the beth din judges following accepted rules of legal procedure and the judges decide the case, which is then submitted to the state court, particularly in family law cases. Perhaps someone needs to amend the Oklahoma amendment to forbid the consideration of Jewish law, in case there is an invasion of Orthodox Jews into the Sooner State.
But here’s the kicker. Muslims who submit their disputes to a sharia court and Jews who submit their disputes to a beth din are only doing what Christians should have been doing. Most Christians ignore the first half of I Corinthians chapter 6. I’ll just quote the first verse to refresh your memory and you can go read the rest: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?”
But what about this “The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures” bit? This is very interesting. Let’s look at it in reverse order. What is another culture? Clearly for the authors of the proposal, it is any culture where Islam is the dominant religion. But that’s not what the amendment says. And what constitutes a “legal precept” of that culture?
But it’s that “other nations” bit that will cause an interesting problem. The whole idea of the common law and the rules by which it operates did not originate in the United States. They come from England, which is, according to my red passport, another nation. Having lived within it for over a decade, I can assure you that it is another culture as well. It is fortunate that Oklahoma, unlike its neighbors Texas and New Mexico, is not a community property state, because it would then be looking to the legal precepts of Spanish law as well. Nonetheless, it appears that the authors (and is must be said, 70% of Oklahoma voters) imagine that American law just sprang up sua sponte.
And finally there is that bit about international law. This is bizarre because regardless of the amendment, Oklahoma courts will have to consider international law. Treaties to which the United States is a party are the supreme law of the land. So says Article VI Section 1 of the US Constitution. Treaties to which the United States is not a party are irrelevant and would never be considered by a court in Oklahoma. The relevance of international law is a federal matter, because only the federal government has any legal interaction with other countries.
State Question 755 was written by ignorant people to be voted upon by ignorant people. Somehow a lot of people see the words “Islam” or “Muslim” and their brain function just shuts off. Muslims are bad, so if something is against Muslims it must be good. It doesn’t have to be good law or even make logical sense. It will probably do something to help stop the great Muslims invasion (they must be massed at Fort Smith and Siloam Springs just waiting to pour over the border) and that’s all that matters.
Lord, save us from ourselves.