A Muslim civil rights organization is urging Oklahomans to call their state lawmakers and urge them to vote against legislation related to State Question 755.
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.
After the election, Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, acting in his capacity as an individual, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the amendment.
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. It declares 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.”
Kern said the bill is similar to SQ 755, and is written to address some of the legal issues used to challenge it.
To address one of them, HB 1552 declares “The Legislature fully recognizes the right to contract freely under the laws of this state, and also recognizes that this right may be reasonably and rationally circumscribed pursuant to the state’s interest to protect and promote rights and privileges granted under the United States or Oklahoma Constitutions.”
Kern said the change will prevent activist judges from undermining the rights of American citizens. She noted that similar proposals have been filed in at least 20 other states.
Awad said the bill is an attempt to reinvent SQ 755, which was found to be unconstitutional and unnecessary by U.S. District Court. Other states have rejected such legislation as unnecessary, unconstitutional and harmful to the business community, he said.
The bill will target all religious laws including Jewish law and Catholic law, Awad said. He said it also will jeopardize international business contracts that include forms of arbitration, choice of law clauses or foreign law clauses.
On Thursday, HB 1552 passed 76-3 in the House. Supporters with local ties included Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, and Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City.
Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, and Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, voted against the bill. Twenty-two members who had excused absences did not vote.
Awad said he hopes Oklahomans will call their representatives in the Legislature and ask them to not submit to the politics of fear.
“I hope Oklahomans will do their research,” he said.
On Feb. 28, HB 1552 passed 10-3 by the House Judiciary Committee. Cooksey and Grau were among the committee members who voted for the bill. Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Chouteau, Virgin and Williams voted against it.
HB 1552 now awaits action in the Senate.
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