(RNS) When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.
But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted.
Why the change?
The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.
The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom.
“These bills don’t have any real-world effect. Their only purpose is to allow people to vilify Islam,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative affairs director, of the more recent bills.
The change in language seems to have helped such bills advance in several states. And while these bills no longer single out Shariah, it is often understood that Shariah is the target, which many legislators make no secret of.
The driving force behind these new versions of anti-Shariah laws is “anti-Muslim bigotry plain and simple,” said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking on a panel in Washington Thursday (May 16). To those agitating for such measures, “Islam is the face of the enemy,” he said.
To date, Oklahoma is the sixth state — joining Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee — to adopt a law prohibiting courts from using foreign or international law, with some exceptions, in their decisions.
This year, at least 36 anti-foreign law bills have been proposed in 15 states, down from 51 bills in 23 states in 2011. While most of this year’s anti-foreign law bills have failed, several others, have advanced: