Patrick B. McGuigan
A Muslim legal activist and several allies today (Monday, April 11) affirmed strong opposition to legislation that has cleared the state House of Representatives this year, but is not presently in a vehicle that can easily gain a Senate floor vote.
Muneer Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Oklahoma chapter, organized a press briefing today opposing what the group considered “an anti-religion and anti-business” proposal, state Rep. Sally Kern’s House Bill 1552.
The measure did not advance from the Senate Rules Committee last week, and is not presently what is termed at the state Capitol “a live round.” That is, the measure is theoretically “dead” for this session. Rep. Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, had sponsored the measure this session after a federal judge prevented certification of last year’s election results for State Question 755.
State Question 755 prohibited the use of foreign law and expressly prohibited reliance on Sharia law in state courts. It gained 70 percent of the vote last November. Its implementation has been blocked due to a lawsuit Awad brought. At a press conference after last November’s election, Awad agreed the move to prevent certification of election results was unprecedented.
With specific references to Sharia law removed, Kern gained 76-3 support in the state House. Rep. Kern said, “This legislation reinforces and puts in statute the intent of S.Q. 755 and will prevent the documented creep of foreign and offensive laws being recognized by state and federal courts. Basically, this will require that American courts rely on American law.”
In a statement today, Awad said “Sally Kern did not write this law, and that is why she and members of our House of Representatives were unaware of its motivations and repercussions.” Awad said the measure was crafted by “the head of a hate group.” CAIR distributed information critical of David Yerushalmi, saying the Arizona attorney is behind “conspiracy theories” about Sharia law.
Awad also asserted H.B. 1552 would affect businesses that have contractual recognition of foreign laws. He contended the measure violates the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Joining Awad at the press conference were state Sen. Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, Dr. Ed Shadid, newly elected to the local city council, Rev. Chris Moore of Mayflower Congregational Church, Imad Enchassi (Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City -- ISGOC) and Nathaniel Batchelder (Director, Central Oklahoma Human Rights Association – COHRA.
In brief remarks, Sen. Rice, a Democrat, said he was glad that the Senate Rules Committee did not consider H.B. 1552. Rice commended “Republican leadership” for keeping the bill from advancing. Rice said the “far right disregard for the business community and the state” needed to be opposed.
Rice, the Senate minority leader, said the bill could still be attached to another piece of legislation or in some way resurrected, but said that due to strict judicial enforcement of “single subject” requirements in state law he thought that would be difficult. As for the House of Representatives, Sen. Rice said, “I imagine there will be antics there” intended to get the bill back under active consideration.
Shadid said although he shared many concerns about the legislation, he joined the press conference with “a narrow focus,” intending to protect Oklahoma City’s investment in a major downtown convention center as part of the MAPS3 process, a government program approved by local voters that will eventually trigger millions in both public and private investment.
Dr. Shadid said data from the Center for American Progress indicates major negative economic impacts from immigration legislation enacted in Arizona, and said he did not want similarly negative effects to come from reduced convention business and tourism if H.B. 1552 passed.
Batchelder is well-known as leader of Oklahoma City’s Peace House. He described himself as “proud to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters” against the bill. Batchelder said that rather than enacting such laws, he hopes the Sooner State will “throw open the doors of Oklahoma wide and welcome” to immigrants and others willing to work hard and contribute to the state’s growth. He contended the state should embrace a role in the “new world neighborhood.”
When she presented the proposal law month, Rep. Kern said the bill would declare that any court action will be “void and unenforceable” if the court ruling is based “on any law, rule, legal code or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the United States and Oklahoma Constitutions.”
“This bill does not ban the use of foreign law or international law,” said Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican. “It only prevents foreign law or international law from being used in a court case if, in that case, the rights and freedoms of a citizen as provided in the U.S. Constitution and the Oklahoma Constitution will be violated. It is just a common-sense protection against judicial activism that would undermine our rights.”
Sharia law has not been a large issue in this country until the past year or so. However, since the 1980s it has been more than an academic question, and a source of increasing controversy, in Great Britain. English legal proceedings are based in common law, and developed in evolving precedents. American law is rooted in the written Constitution and judicial interpretations of its provisions.
In 2008, the British government sanctioned limited use of Sharia law for Muslim civil cases in England. Such legal proceedings have sparked demonstrations, both for and against. There are as many as 85 Sharia courts in Great Britain, but not all those carry the force of British law.