A federal judge in Oklahoma has extended a restraining order barring certification of an anti-Islam state ballot measure (SQ 755) passed in the November 2 election.
If certified, the ballot measure (SQ 755) would have amended Oklahoma State's constitution to forbid judges from considering Islamic principles or international law when deciding a case.
Following a hearing Monday morning (Nov 22) in Oklahoma City, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled that the temporary restraining order she granted November 8 barring certification of the amendment by the Oklahoma State Board of Elections will remain in place until she makes a final decision as to whether it should be extended until the case against the measure SQ 755 is resolved.
The lawsuit seeking to block certification of SQ 755 was filed by Muneer Awad, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oklahoma chapter (CAIR-OK). Awad argued that the amendment violated the freedom of religion clause of the United States Constitution, because it singled out Shariah law and Islam for special treatment rather than banning consideration of all religious codes. That amounts to state disapproval of Islam, he argued.
In Monday's hearing, Awad was represented by American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma Foundation attorney Michael Salem, with CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas acting as co-counsel.
Awad's lawsuit says SQ 755 violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause that bars government bodies from making laws "respecting the establishment of religion."
The ballot measure passed with 70 percent of the vote and helped drive record turnout in Republican strongholds. For the first time in the state, Republicans now control the governor's office and have veto-proof majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
The New York Times reports that law professors have begun to raise questions about the unintended consequences of the amendment. Because it also "forbids courts from using or considering international law," it could complicate contractual arrangements between Oklahoma companies and those with headquarters abroad. The amendment might also prevent judges from referring to the Ten Commandments or exploring English common law in their decisions.
"You throw a series of ambiguous ill-conceived words into the State Constitution and you don't know what will happen," Harry F. Tepker Jr., a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, was quoted by the New York Times as saying. "It's a mess."
Two other measures challenged
Oklahoma voters have also passed ballot initiatives on hot conservative issues. For instance, voters overwhelmingly approved measures (SQ 751) making English the state's official language and requiring picture identification at the polls (SQ 746). Both measures make it harder for Hispanic immigrants to vote or go to school.
As expected, lawsuits have been filed challenging both SQ 751 and SQ 746. Both were filed by James C. Thomas, a Tulsa attorney and a University of Tulsa professor, in Tulsa County District Courts. The "English only" measure, he says, violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution while the voter identification requirement is contrary to the state constitution's statement forbidding interference in the "free exercise of the right of suffrage."
Ballot measure 751 requires that all official state actions be conducted in English, with exceptions for Native American languages and in cases when federal law requires otherwise.
This whole issue was proposed over the issue of illegal immigration and it simply played into the anti-illegal immigration sentiment as the arguments and counter-arguments indicate.
Supporters of measure 751 claimed that making English the official language would in fact build a better atmosphere in the state by eliminating language barriers, and as a result, creating a better way for state businesses to succeed.