Sharia in Oklahoma
American ruling on sharia may hold lessons for Egypt
Abdel Moneim Said
, Friday 20 Jan 2012
I must admit I was surprised by news from Oklahoma that a US federal appeals court upheld a state court ruling in Case 755 (Awad v Ziriax) reversing an amendment that undermined a constitutional principle, although a popular referendum voted against allowing state courts to use sharia (Islamic law) as a legal source to guide judges.
The federal court argued that the referendum was based on discrimination against a single category, claiming it controls state courts without supporting evidence, especially that other religions are referenced in rulings including the Christian and Jewish faiths.
The ruling by the federal court reinforces the principle of not discriminating among various religious references for legislation or court rulings in the state, and was a result of cooperation among civil society groups that rarely agree on any issue, including the Anti-Defamation League, Union for Reform Judaism, the Interfaith Alliance, American Jewish Committee, the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
These civic groups come from different backgrounds and represent not only the three Abrahamic religions, but also those calling for the separation of state and church or religious institutions.
At the same time, they believe in liberty of faith and belief, and that religious sources can be incorporated into legal discourse without exclusions – despite a popular referendum – since there is no sanctity for a decision that is based on discrimination or is prejudiced towards one religion over another.
If this occurred, it would be a clear breach of a key constitutional principle stipulating equality and freedom of religion. This incident took place in Oklahoma, a conservative southern state in the US and home to many fanatics. This is why constitutional courts uphold constitutional “principles” of liberty and equality among the people without discrimination based on religion, creed or any other reason.
The issue is much more complex than it seems, but the court ruling overturning the results of the referendum is considered a victory for freedom and human rights. Hence, adding “what pertains to other religions” to the second article of the constitution in the ongoing debate about Egypt’s constitution is very wise, and an assertion of genuine constitutional principles.