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Judge issues permanent injunction on Oklahoma Sharia law ban

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
  • The measure forbids state courts from considering or using international or Islamic law
  • It was approved by voters in Oklahoma this month
  • The judge's order puts on hold certification of the measure
  • The injunction will allow the judge time to consider issues raised by the measure
  • Sharia Law
  • Oklahoma

Washington (CNN) -- A federal judge in Oklahoma has issued an order putting on hold the certification of a ballot measure that forbids state courts from considering or using international laws, as well as Sharia, or Islamic law. That permanent injunction will allow the judge more time to consider the constitutional issues raised by State Question 755, which was approved by voters earlier this month.

Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange had earlier issued a temporary restraining order in favor of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which had sued to nullify the law completely.

"While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out," wrote the judge in Monday's order, "the court finds that the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual's constitutional rights."

The language of her 15-page order indicated Miles-LaGrange has initial doubts about the constitutionality of the ballot measure. She said the case goes "to the very foundation of our country, our Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights. Throughout the course of our country's history, the will of the 'majority' has on occasion conflicted with the constitutional rights of individuals."

The amendment would require Oklahoma courts to "rely on federal and state law when deciding cases" and "forbids courts from considering or using" either international law or Islamic religious law, known as Sharia, which the amendment defined as being based on the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.

In bringing suit, CAIR argued that the amendment violates both the establishment and free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. The group's local leader Muneer Awad has said the amendment passed under a campaign of fear and misinformation about Islam.

State Question 755, also known as the "Save Our State" measure was approved by a 7-3 ratio. It was sponsored by State Reps. Rex Duncan and Anthony Sykes, both Republicans.

"The fact that Sharia law was even considered anywhere in the United States is enough for me" to sign on, Sykes told CNN. "It should scare anyone that any judge in America would consider using that as precedent."

Sykes said his concern was compounded by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's comments during her confirmation hearings in June that she would be willing to consider international law when considering cases before the court.

As written on the ballot, the measure states it would amend a state constitution section dealing with the state courts, making them "rely on federal and state law" when deciding cases, forbidding them "from considering or using international law" and "from considering or using Sharia Law."

The ballot then briefly described international law, which "deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes," and Sharia, which is "based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed."

"Shall the proposal be approved?" the ballot read, instructing voters to respond 'yes' if they're for the proposal and 'no' if they're against it.

Saleem Quraishi, president of the American Muslim Association of Oklahoma City, who runs the Islamic Center at the Grand Mosque of Oklahoma City, said there are more than 5,000 Muslims in the city. While there are no exact numbers for the Muslim population in the state, it is not among the larger communities, said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"It's just fear-mongering; it's nothing," Quraishi told CNN. "What's Sharia law have to do with Oklahoma?"

The Oklahoma controversy stems from a New Jersey legal case in which a Muslim woman went to a family court asking for a restraining order against her spouse claiming he had raped her repeatedly. The judge ruled against her, saying that her husband was abiding by his Muslim beliefs regarding spousal duties. The decision was later overruled by an appellate court, but the case sparked a nationwide firestorm. The issue spread to Oklahoma, prompting the ballot initiative.

There was no indication when the judge would hear the merits of the Oklahoma case and issue a ruling, but that could be some months away. The losing side could then appeal to a higher federal court, then possibly to the U-S Supreme Court.

The Oklahoma City-based Miles-LaGrange is a 1994 Clinton appointee.

The case is Awad v. Ziriax (CIV-10-1186).

CNN National Security Producer Laurie Ure contributed to this report.