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Oklahoma lawmakers aim to ban international and Sharia law from state courts

OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite few, if any, attempts to impose Sharia law in the State of Oklahoma, voters there will be asked to vote on a ballot measure that would prohibit state courts from using the Islamic law – or international law – when making rulings.

State Question 755, variously known as the Sharia Law Amendment, the Oklahoma International Law Amendment or the “Save Our State” amendment, is a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, meaning that the state legislature rather than citizens of the state, voted to put the measure before the voters.

Voters will also be asked to approve a measure requiring specific voter identification documents.

A leader of the Osage Nation said he has not heard any official tribal opinions about the ballot measures, but most people he has spoken to informally oppose both measures.

The Sharia/International Law Amendment would require that courts rely on federal or state laws when handing down decisions and would prohibit courts from using international law or Sharia law. Voters will be asked to vote yes or no on the following ballot text:

“This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law.

“International law is also known as the law of nations. It deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes. It deals with their relationship with each other. It also deals with some of their relationships with persons.

“The law of nations is formed by the general assent of civilized nations. Sources of international law also include international agreements, as well as treaties.

“Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.”

It is not clear what the sponsors of the bill had in mind when seeking to prohibit state courts from using international law since the federal government is a signatory of numerous international agreements and treaties, which effectively become federal law. Would it mean, for example, that the state could not cite the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights or – once the federal government endorses it – the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in issuing a ruling? It is also not clear if a state law that aims to pre-empt federal law is even constitutional.

Chris White, executive director of governmental affairs of the Osage Nation, said the question of constitutionality concerns tribal citizens.

“It wouldn’t seem like it would be legal. I’m not an attorney, but that’s the reason why the people I’ve talked to about it are concerned. They’re concerned about the treaties.”

White said he hasn’t spoken to anyone officially “but the ballot measure got a bit of play on Facebook and among people who are my friends and they are all against it. The state legislator who authored that amendment is pretty far to the right, the extreme right wing, and so most everyone sees that this amendment could be detrimental to Native tribes.”

Republican Rep. Rex Duncan, who sponsored the amendment, said Sharia law is deeply ingrained in the United Kingdom, and that’s why Oklahoma needs protection.

“It is a cancer upon the survivability of the UK. SQ 755 will constitute a pre-emptive strike against Sharia law coming to Oklahoma. While Oklahoma is still able to defend itself against this sort of hideous invasion, we should do so.”

Duncan’s amendment is clearly an insult to the state’s 15,000 Muslims, said Saad Mohammed, the executive director of Islamic information and vice president of the Islamic Center of Oklahoma City.

“Sharia law is a collection of laws from the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed that show us how to behave and how to worship and to guide us toward righteousness, and there’s absolutely zero chance of Sharia law coming to Oklahoma.

“I had a debate with Rep. Duncan in Tulsa and I told him it’s fear and scare tactics and it’s really about his own prejudice and bigotry. Nothing has happened to even remotely make him think that (Sharia law will be used in Oklahoma). We have no desire to bring it here because Sharia law itself tells us to follow the law of the land so we must follow American laws.”

Democratic Rep. Cory Williams opposes the measure.

“If I was a Muslim Oklahoman, I would be offended by my religion being singled out. Some people buy into the whole butterfly theory that if a judge in Europe flaps his wings and adopted Sharia law then it will come to Oklahoma. I, on the other hand, do not.”

Oklahoma voters will also be asked to approve State Question 746, the Oklahoma Voter Identification Measure. This ballot measure is a legislatively-referred state statute, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Ford. The measure says voters would have to produce photo identification in order to vote. The proof of identity would be a document that includes the voter’s name, a picture of the voter, and is issued by the United States, the State of Oklahoma, or a federally recognized Indian tribe or nation.

White said he also opposes this measure.

“I’m not for those kinds of identification requirements. It’s just another way to limit participation of minorities and others. We want as much participation as possible at the polls and that’s just a way to keep it down. Oh, I can see where they may try to get around some of those things by saying you can use your tribal ID, but I just think a person should be able to use their driver’s license. That would make it pretty simple.”