Federal Court Considers Oklahoma Shariah Ban

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


On Monday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals began hearings on a constitutional challenge to Oklahoma’s ban on Shariah law.

The amendment to the state’s constitution was approved by popular vote—more than 70 percent of Oklahomans voted for it. But although singling out Muslims for official disapproval might have been a workable strategy for getting out the vote, it may doom the law in court. Reuters reports:

The panel gave no indication how it would rule, but at least one judge, Scott Matheson, asked why the measure was crafted to apply explicitly to just one religion.

“There’s no mention of any other specific law,” Matheson said in the hearing. “We just have Sharia law singled out.”

Oklahoma Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick replied, “The intent here was to exclude Sharia law and international law.”

Matheson asked, “Why is there any need to mention Sharia law,” to which Wyrick answered: “To avoid confusion.”

Often questions from judges during oral arguments are less about getting information than making a point, and in this case Obama-appointee Matheson (the older brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat) seemed to be offering Wyrick a chance to explain the ban’s obvious problems. Instead, Wyrick just reiterated that the law was targeting a particular religion, lest anyone get confused. That’s unusual. Laws explicitly singling out certain religions are rare, precisely because the authors of those laws know that doing poses obvious constitutional problems that could lead to the measures being overturned. In previous cases like this, lawmakers have at least tried to pretend that there was a compelling public interest beyond simply curtailing the religious activities of one particular group. But thanks to the language of the amendment and the public statements of Oklahoma lawmakers, there’s little doubt who the amendment was targeting. 

Oklahoma’s Shariah law ban was called the “Save Our State Amendment,” but only in the most fevered imaginations is Tulsa in danger of being annexed by Islamic extremists. Instead, the ban will simply interfere with the ability of Muslim Oklahomans to execute wills and uphold business contracts drafted according to their religious beliefs. There is no danger of “Shariah” replacing American law. Where religious practices come into contact with civil law, the latter prevails.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.