The voters in the state of Oklahoma earlier this month approved a measure that prevents state courts from considering international law or Sharia (Islamic) law. The measure was mostly in reaction to the New Jersey case of a women that sought a restraining order against her abusive husband and lost (but later won on appeal) because her husband’s beliefs (supported by Sharia law) gave him the right to force himself on his wife.
The Oklahoma measure (State Question 755) was put on hold yesterday by a Federal judge who thinks the ballot issue may be unconstitutional. It seems to core question to the judge is whether the specific reference to Sharia (and defining it within the question as being tied to the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed) is improperly singling out a religion.
I can’t even begin to pretend that I understand why anyone would think that Sharia law should ever be a consideration in a United States court. I’m not saying that to diminish the position (although I oppose it), I’m simply saying I fail to understand it and I wish I did.
Clearly we have had a history of granting exceptions to those whose religious beliefs run counter to societal demands through law. Most notably is that those who can make a case that using restricted drugs for religious purposes (even during Prohibition, there were exceptions provided for “alter wine”). Religious exemptions to child abuse laws (typically related to medical treatment or corporal punishment) are another example. Some exceptions in tax law have also existed to support religious work.
Contrary to the exceptions mentioned are polygamy, virgin sacrifice, mutilation and other practices that are not accepted in the United States despite their religious support. Most of these practices are just too abhorrent to rationalize.
As should be any form of rape or unprovoked violence.
To think that our system of Justice; that any individual’s rights to life, liberty and property; may be thwarted by claims of religious freedom is just mind-numbing.
The Oklahoma ballot issue may be flawed because it so specifies Sharia. And in the minds of many (or perhaps most), it should be unnecessary to say that only the laws of the United States and the relevant geographic or military jurisdiction(s) of any case should be applied by a court. The problem, as we have discussed before, is that judges have been making their own rules in some cases and the people see the need to solve this problem.
Despite the fact that much of our system of law and the specifics of acceptable behavior derive from a largely Judeo-Christian cultural and Biblical worldview, we do not allow reprehensible behaviors or punishments that go contrary to our law to be treated as acceptable even though they may exist in the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. We do not execute adulterers or witches. We do not allow indentured servitude. We don’t allow a newly married service member to take a year off from their military obligation.
And we don’t cut of the hand of a woman that fights dirty. See Deuteronomy 25:11-12.
We wouldn’t want the courts to consider these very Biblical edicts, and the same goes for Sharia. Equally unthinkable is that the laws of another nation may have similar influence on our courts.
And this is what Oklahomans seek to protect themselves from.
We certainly need the courts, and we need courts that will make good sound decisions, sometimes looking outside the simple application of the law to make a fair ruling. But rulings like the one in New Jersey, that just don’t make sense, are making me scratch my head and think, as the folks in Oklahoma apparently do, that the courts need some kind of constraints to ensure they carry out their mission within the context of the will of the people and not the will of outsiders.
So what should we do about it? My thinking right now is that a slightly more generalized version of the Oklahoma initiative (perhaps without mentioning Sharia by name) might be more likely to pass muster.
Hopefully the situation in Oklahoma will provide us with some lessons to help us solve this issue effectively across the nation. Until then, we’re probably in for a bumpy ride. Let’s hope that the courts at least get the people’s message for now.