Oklahoma lawmakers are considering banning judges in the state from basing any rulings on foreign laws, including Islamic Sharia law.
A Senate panel on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the bill, which has broad support in the Republican-controlled Legislature. The bill would specifically make void and unenforceable any court, arbitration or administrative agency decision that doesn’t grant the parties affected by the ruling “the same fundamental liberties, rights and privileges granted under the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions.”
“This is a way to protect American citizens … where somebody may try to use any kind of foreign law or religious law to affect the outcome of a trial,” said Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, who sponsored the bill. Shortey described it as “American Law for American Courts.”
A handful of other states have laws aimed at keeping courts from basing decision on foreign legal codes, including Islamic law. Oklahoma voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that would have specifically prohibited courts from considering Sharia law, but a federal judge blocked its implementation after a Muslim community leader alleged it discriminates against his religion.
Shortey said he didn’t know of an instance in Oklahoma where a judge has relied on foreign laws, but he said there have been cases in other states. That prompted state Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, to describe the measure as a “solution that’s looking for a problem.” Crain was the only member of the Senate committee to vote against the bill.
The panel approved the bill 8-1. It now heads to the full Senate for a vote. A similar measure has been introduced in the Oklahoma House.
The executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Oklahoma courts already are required to enforce state and federal laws when they conflict with foreign law that violates public policy.
“This bill is entirely unnecessary and creates significant uncertainty for Oklahomans married abroad as well as those Oklahomans who have adopted a child from another country or are seeking to do so,” Executive Director Ryan Kiesel said in a statement. “These Oklahoma families don’t deserve to have this type of doubt cast over them. It also creates an atmosphere of uncertainty for foreign businesses seeking to do business with Oklahoma businesses.”