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Second Attempt to Bar Religious Law in Oklahoma Courts Succeeds

(UPDATED) Court vetoed previous state measure because of reference to Shari'ah law.

Update (May 16): RNS offers an analysis of similar efforts in other states and why they are succeeding where previous measures failed.


The Oklahoma State Senate has approved a new bill that prohibits courts from applying any foreign or religious law in state courts–and lawmakers hope this bill is more successful than its predecessor.

Oklahoma started a trend in 2010 when it approved a bill to "bar any recourse to Islamic law," notes the Economist. "That move was blocked by a federal court on grounds that it unfairly targeted just one religion."

However, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all approved bans on foreign or religious law since then–and Florida is poised to follow suit. In addition, data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicate that "at least 32 states introduced [similar] bills."

The key? These bills use more neutral language–referencing any religion's legal processes–than the original Oklahoma measure, which included a specific reference to Islamic law. The newly approved bill now mandates that a court cannot base its "rulings or decisions ... in whole or in part on foreign law that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions."

CT previously has reported on Oklahoma and Shari'ah law, including a discussion of whether or not Islamic law has a place in the American legal landscape. CT also reported in 2011 when Tennessee lawmakers revised the state's so-called "anti-Shari'ah" bill in order to address questions of constitutionality.

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