2010 Election

Judge Rules For Individual Rights

Image of Vicki Miles-LaGrange

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s decision Monday to issue a preliminary injunction against a state constitutional amendment that prohibits courts from considering Islamic-related law should be lauded here by anyone concerned with protecting individual rights.

On Nov. 2, more than 70 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 755, a constitutional amendment that bars courts from using Sharia law, which is based on the Koran, to rule on cases. There are no known cases here in Oklahoma of courts using Sharia law, and courts are already duty-bound to use federal and state law. The amendment is superfluous and demeaning.

After the election, Muneer Awad, a Muslim who is director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, filed suit in federal court against the amendment, arguing his rights had been violated because his religion has been singled out and essentially condemned. Miles-LaGrange, pictured right, then issued a temporary restraining order barring the Oklahoma State Election Board from certifying the results of SQ 755. In her ruling, which is an injunction that can be appealed, the judge agreed with Awad’s argument.

She wrote:

. . . the Court finds that [Awad's] alleged condemnation injury is sufficiently
concrete, particularized and imminent. [Awad] has sufficiently set forth a personal stake in this action by alleging that he lives in Oklahoma, is a Muslim, that the amendment conveys an official government message of disapproval and hostility toward his religious beliefs, that sends a clear message he is an outsider, not a full member of the political community, thereby chilling his access to the government and forcing him to curtail his political and religious activities. Further, the Court finds the consequences – the condemnation – that [Awad] believes will result from the amendment are objectively justified.

Essentially, basic religious discrimination perpetuated by the government, even when sanctioned by a voter majority, is a violation of the Bill of Rights, which Miles-LaGrange cited in her ruling. She began her ruling with language from the U.S. Supreme Court that argued:

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

The Sharia law controversy has drawn major national media attention, which, at the risk of understatement, has not been flattering to the state. The New York Times, for example, published an editorial Sunday that argued Oklahoma voters had been duped by fear mongers. Here’s the last paragraph of the editorial:

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.

Former state Rep. Rex Duncan (R-Sand Springs), who authored the “Save Our State Amendment,” has argued the amendment is needed here even if there are no current problems, but the Sharia law ban is simply the latest GOP cultural wedge issue used to create fear and drive voters to the poll.

The Oklahoma State Election Board can appeal the Miles-LaGrange ruling, and it will be interesting to see how far the state will go to support a law that’s so obviously discriminatory. Undoubtedly, those who pushed for the amendment will argue this is a case of judicial activism, but it really isn’t. No state should be allowed to legally sanction religious discrimination. The corporate media here should get behind Miles-LaGrange’s ruling and help cleanup the state’s image on this issue.