Moving forward, we must focus on protecting First Amendment rights for all, regardless of their way of life.
On Aug. 15, I received an unexpected phone call that delivered some of the best news I have heard in my lifetime. It was a call from Gadeir Abbas, one of the attorneys representing myself and other plaintiffs in a case known as the Oklahoma Anti-Sharia Amendment case. I was overjoyed to hear that judgment was ruled in our favor and U.S.
District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange permanently enjoined the defendants from certifying the election results for State Question 755 from the Nov. 2, 2010, ballot. Not only was this a victory for Oklahoma Muslims and First Amendment rights, but this was also a victory for Oklahomans of all walks of life who value diversity and plurality in our society.
One of the biggest challenges I found in this case was not the legal battle of whether the amendment was constitutional but rather the division I witnessed amongst fellow Oklahomans. In my office, I have received an end less stream of hate mail surrounding this very issue. The most heartbreaking aspect of it all is that as a state, we seemed to have dismissed from our minds the reality of what the United States of America was founded upon.
Our great nation was founded upon the principles of religious indepen dence, a fundamental quality that our founding fathers believed would ensure that a person’s religious beliefs would not be of any interest to our government. The Constitution is the document that ultimately makes America who she truly is, and if the Anti-Sharia Amendment had been allowed to be certified, then wouldn’t we be doing something that is antithetical to what it means to be American?
Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association dated Jan. 1, 1802, wrote, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
The appeal of the American dream has and always will be the freedom to think, believe and act in accordance with our faith tradition without fear of government intrusion or interference. Sharia law is an integral and fundamental part of the Islamic faith, albeit misunderstood, and if banned or outlawed, casts doubt in my mind that we are living up to the same understanding of the First Amendment as that of Thomas Jefferson.
Moving forward, we must focus on protecting First Amendment rights for all, regardless of their way of life, for in doing so, we are truly being American. For now, thanks to Judge Miles-LaGrange, Oklahoma finds itself on the right side of history.
Soltani is the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.