(Reuters) - An Oklahoma initiative that would prevent its courts from considering Islamic law in deciding cases likely discriminates against religion, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday, upholding an injunction against it.
A three-member panel of the Denver-based U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the rights of plaintiff Muneer Awad, a Muslim man living in Oklahoma City, likely would be violated if the ban on Sharia law takes effect.
The decision upholds the ruling of a lower federal court.
"While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out ... the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual's constitutional rights," the appeals court said in a 37-page written decision.
The Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomed the ruling, calling it "a victory for the Constitution and for the right of all Americans to freely practice their faith."
Oklahoma's "Save Our State Amendment," which was approved by 70 percent of state voters in 2010, bars Oklahoma state courts from considering or using Sharia law.
The lawsuit challenging the measure was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Awad, who is director of the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR.
A federal judge in Oklahoma City issued a court order in November of 2010 barring the measure from taking effect while the case is under review, finding a substantial likelihood that Awad would prevail on the merits.
The Council said the Oklahoma amendment is among 20 similar proposed laws introduced in state legislatures nationwide.
Defenders of the amendment say they want to prevent foreign laws in general, and Islamic law, also known as Sharia, in particular from overriding state or U.S. laws.
But foes of the Oklahoma measure, also called State Question 755, have argued that it stigmatizes Islam and its adherents and violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment prohibition against the government favoring one religion over another.
Opponents also say it could nullify wills or legal contracts between Muslims because they incorporate by reference specific elements of Islamic prophetic traditions.
(Corrects court in 3rd paragraph)
(Reporting by Robert Boczkiewics; Editing by Mary Slosson and Paul Thomasch)