The Edmond Sun

April 11, 2011

SQ 755 follow-up bill dies in committee

Muslim leaders decry legislative attempt

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

OKLAHOMA CITY — Legislation seeking to enact provisions of State Question 755 has died in a Senate committee, a lawmaker said Monday.

Last fall, 695,650 voters, 70 percent of the total, cast votes for SQ 755, which amends the state Constitution to forbid judges from considering Islamic principles or international law when deciding a case.

In November, an Oklahoma federal judge granted a temporary restraining order blocking certification of SQ 755 by the State Election Board. The lawsuit is being appealed in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

State Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, is the author of House Bill 1552, which would ban the use of foreign law in Oklahoma courts.

The bill stated that any court action will be “void and unenforceable” if the decision 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.”

On Feb. 28, HB 1552 was passed 10-3 by the House Judiciary Committee. Last month, the bill passed 76-3 in the House.

State Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said last Wednesday was the deadline for bills decided by the Senate Rules Committee, and he commended committee chairman Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, for not bringing the bill up in committee due to concerns about its constitutionality.  

Moderate committee members are attempting to keep the state from the frivolous lawsuits that would be filed if the bill became law, Rice said.

Kern and others on the far right disregard the affects certain pieces of legislation like this would have on Oklahoma’s various religious groups and on the state’s business community, Rice said.

“As someone here in the city in a very diverse district I’m concerned about the message it keeps sending outside the borders,” Rice said, citing groups opposed to the bill. “It’s a non-issue. It’s not happening. It’s meant just to sort of gin up anxiety and fear, and it’s too bad it’s going on at the Capitol.”

Efforts to reach Kern for comment were not successful Monday.

In a previous report, Kern said the bill is similar to SQ 755 and it was needed to address some of the legal issues used to challenge the measure.

Based on knowledge that HB 1552 would be up for a vote in the Senate Rules Committee this week, the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, called Monday’s press conference to express opposition.

Muneer Awad, executive director of CAIR-OK, said Kern’s bill violates the Bill of Rights and would threaten all international business contracts and companies in Oklahoma.

Rice said the bill could still be brought up as an amendment to a bill on the Senate floor, which would cause more constitutional issues because of the single subject rule.

“I imagine that there will be some antics in the House to try and revive it,” he said. “Hopefully there will be enough of a coalition of legislators here to resist them.”

Supporters of SQ 755 have said the change was needed to stem a trend of activist judges turning to international law to make decisions. Ex-state Sen. Rex Duncan, author of the proposition, cited the affects of Sharia law on places like Great Britain. Duncan called it a “cancer upon Great Britain’s survivability.”

Awad said Sharia is like a map for how to be a Muslim. American Muslims are abiding by U.S. laws and by Sharia, he said. Oklahoma Muslims have experienced some angst due to SQ 755, but mostly feel comfortable and welcome, he said.

Awad said CAIR-OK will continue to monitor the legislative process and be on the watch for attempts to revive the bill. | 341-2121, ext. 108