The know nothings in the anti-Shariah law campaign in this country recently got their comeuppance in Oklahoma. U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued on August 15 an injunction against a voter-approved 2010 constitutional amendment forbidding the consideration of Shariah law in the legal system of the state. “While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out, the court finds that the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual’s constitutional rights,” the judge wrote. Funded and driven by far-right groups that have found a sympathetic home among a significant portion of the GOP, the anti-Shariah campaign is thinly disguised bigotry that preys on fears and prejudices.
In her ruling, Miles-LaGrange hit the nail on the head when she observed that attorneys defending the amendment had admitted that “they did not know of any instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Shariah law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.” For her wisdom, the judge was subjected to race-baiting by a prime author of the amendment, former state senator Rex Duncan. “It didn’t come as a great surprise that a constitutional amendment that in effect tried to close the door on special treatment for a minority ideology or religion would be seen as her as hostile and I think that’s how she saw it, as a threat to the founding principles of our country, and she just went out of her way to side with the minorities and make up a reason for it,” he said in a not-so-thinly disguised reference to the fact that Miles-LaGrange is African American. Duncan’s nastiness was possibly motivated by the fact that the judge managed to get to the heart of the matter: Why all this fussing over a nonexistent danger? Or as political comedian and activist Dean Obeidallah said in a reference to a similar attempt in North Carolina, “A law that would ban Islamic law from being imposed on the state’s courts raises the question: What invisible threat are you guys so scared of?” “Shariah law may be a problem in some Islamic countries, but not a possibility in secular America,” Herb Silverman of the Secular Coalition for America writes in a more solemn vein in the Washington Post.” That hasn’t stopped legislators, including some in my home state of South Carolina, from introducing bills to prevent Shariah law from being imposed on us.” As Silverman points out, the very lawmakers inveighing against Muslim religious laws are the ones imposing religious doctrine on their own states. “S.C. state senator Mike Fair, a conservative Christian, introduced such a bill,” he says. “His other bills have included mandating that sex education classes teach abstinence only, and that homosexual behavior is unnatural, unhealthy and illegal. An anti-evolutionist, he would also encourage public school teachers to critique evolution in their classrooms. Ironically, such bills sound a lot more like what you might expect from an Islamic country than a secular one.” A recent tactic that these folks have cleverly embraced is to couch their efforts as “anti-foreign law,” not campaigns to target Muslims. “The new bills are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam,” reports Omar Sacirbey for Religion News Service. “They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom.” The Oklahoma judge laid bare the absurdity of such a ruse. “It is abundantly clear that the primary purpose of the amendment was to specifically target and outlaw Shariah law and to act as a preemptive strike against Shariah law to protect Oklahoma from a perceived ‘threat’ of Shariah law being utilized in Oklahoma courts,” she wrote. Judge Miles-LaGrange struck an important blow for equal rights and nondiscrimination. Her judgment should slow down anti-Shariah law efforts in the rest of the country. Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive and co-editor of the Progressive Media Project, is the author of “ ‘Islam’ Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today” (Praeger).