Asma Uddin writes:
Judging by how Oklahoma voted in the recent election, one might conclude that despite its tiny Muslim population, Oklahoma was on the verge of becoming an Islamic caliphate in Middle America. The reality is of course far different. Oklahoma State Question 755, which passed, asked voters whether state courts should be forbidden “from considering or using Sharia Law.” Similar legislation is being considered in Tennessee, and Louisiana recently became the first state to pass several bills banning international law from its courts. Although the Louisiana bills didn’t mention shariah explicitly, they were apparently motivated at least in part by a similar distaste for Muslims and their religious law, and a desire to “protect” constitutional law. These constitutional law protectors appear, however, to be a little fuzzy on what constitutional law actually means, how it allows for various forms of religious arbitration and what the state can and cannot do to regulate religious freedoms.
In the discussion and debate surrounding Question 755, supporters in search of an example where the bogeyman shariah was permitted inside American courtrooms kept pointing to a New Jersey case where the court denied a restraining order to a woman who was sexually assaulted by her then-husband. The judge ruled that the husband did not have a “criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault” her as the husband was merely under the impression that he was exercising his prerogative as a husband under Islamic law. What’s rarely reported, however, is that the decision was promptly overturned on appeal because the application of shariah, or the “cultural defense,” conflicted with civil law.
This example is noteworthy not just because the decision was overturned because it got the law wrong, or that it is the only one of its kind, but because it is an atypical example of how shariah has made an appearance in American courtrooms. The typical cases are far from frightening. For example, arbitration under shariah law is permitted in the U.S., just like arbitration according to Christian principles or Jewish religious tradition is permitted, or according to any other set of rules two contracting parties may agree to. Indeed, prominent Christian groups like PromiseKeepers have long required Christian arbitration clauses in their contracts with vendors.