2010 Election

Judge Rules For Individual Rights

Image of Vicki Miles-LaGrange

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s decision Monday to issue a preliminary injunction against a state constitutional amendment that prohibits courts from considering Islamic-related law should be lauded here by anyone concerned with protecting individual rights.

On Nov. 2, more than 70 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 755, a constitutional amendment that bars courts from using Sharia law, which is based on the Koran, to rule on cases. There are no known cases here in Oklahoma of courts using Sharia law, and courts are already duty-bound to use federal and state law. The amendment is superfluous and demeaning.

After the election, Muneer Awad, a Muslim who is director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, filed suit in federal court against the amendment, arguing his rights had been violated because his religion has been singled out and essentially condemned. Miles-LaGrange, pictured right, then issued a temporary restraining order barring the Oklahoma State Election Board from certifying the results of SQ 755. In her ruling, which is an injunction that can be appealed, the judge agreed with Awad’s argument.

She wrote:

. . . the Court finds that [Awad's] alleged condemnation injury is sufficiently
concrete, particularized and imminent. [Awad] has sufficiently set forth a personal stake in this action by alleging that he lives in Oklahoma, is a Muslim, that the amendment conveys an official government message of disapproval and hostility toward his religious beliefs, that sends a clear message he is an outsider, not a full member of the political community, thereby chilling his access to the government and forcing him to curtail his political and religious activities. Further, the Court finds the consequences – the condemnation – that [Awad] believes will result from the amendment are objectively justified.

Essentially, basic religious discrimination perpetuated by the government, even when sanctioned by a voter majority, is a violation of the Bill of Rights, which Miles-LaGrange cited in her ruling. She began her ruling with language from the U.S. Supreme Court that argued:

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

The Sharia law controversy has drawn major national media attention, which, at the risk of understatement, has not been flattering to the state. The New York Times, for example, published an editorial Sunday that argued Oklahoma voters had been duped by fear mongers. Here’s the last paragraph of the editorial:

The voters of Oklahoma were badly misled by demagogues into passing a profoundly un-American measure. Now it is up to the federal courts to prevent the hatred from spreading further.

Former state Rep. Rex Duncan (R-Sand Springs), who authored the “Save Our State Amendment,” has argued the amendment is needed here even if there are no current problems, but the Sharia law ban is simply the latest GOP cultural wedge issue used to create fear and drive voters to the poll.

The Oklahoma State Election Board can appeal the Miles-LaGrange ruling, and it will be interesting to see how far the state will go to support a law that’s so obviously discriminatory. Undoubtedly, those who pushed for the amendment will argue this is a case of judicial activism, but it really isn’t. No state should be allowed to legally sanction religious discrimination. The corporate media here should get behind Miles-LaGrange’s ruling and help cleanup the state’s image on this issue.


Okie Spectacle: Did State Voters Ban Use Of The Ten Commandments?

Image of Oklahom State Capitol

The flap over banning Sharia Law here has become a bonafide Okie spectacle.

By definition, an Okie spectacle is when some state political leaders and/or a majority of its voters draw attention and ridicule from media outlets and organizations for committing an act of basic bigotry or just plain dumbness. In this particular case, it’s both. Unfortunately, virtually all of us here get implicated by default only because we live here.

On Nov. 2, Oklahoma voters in a landslide vote—70 to 30 percent—approved State Question 755, a constitutional amendment which prohibits courts from using international or Sharia law to make decisions. As the measure stated, “Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.”

The problem here is that because courts are already duty-bound to use state and federal laws in deciding the cases, the specific ban on laws used by a specific religion constitutes a type of religious profiling that should be considered bigotry and unconstitutional. Why single out Islam? Why not Christianity or Buddhism as well?

As I wrote in the Oklahoma Gazette in a pre-election commentary about SQ 755:

Again, what’s the point? Can anyone imagine a judge here pulling out the religious text of Islam to back up a decision to sentence a meth cook to noon prayers? The measure “makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases,” but that’s what courts are already duty-bound to do. Why specifically mention Sharia? It explicitly criticizes Islam. What’s the gain here, except to take a cheap shot at one of the world’s largest religions?

On Monday, a federal judge in Oklahoma issued a temporary injunction against the new measure after Muneer Awad, the leader of state's Council on American-Islamic Relations. filed a lawsuit against it. He argues, and I think rightfully so, the amendment is unconstitutional.

All of this brought much attention from outside Oklahoma. Stories about the issue have run in media outlets from ABC News to the Boston Herald to Politico. The progressive site Common Dreams called the issue “Right-Wingers Gone Wild.” The site Color Lines had this cogent remark about SQ 755:

In a midterm election cycle saturated by absurd racial fear mongering, it’s been hard for anyone on the Radical Right to really stand out. But Oklahoma succeeded in getting itself above the fold on Tuesday when 70 percent of voters checked a box to pass a constitutional amendment banning the consideration of Sharia law — or international law — in the court room.

Meanwhile, people taking a more historical look at the issue argue that the since the Ten Commandments are actually a part of the Koran, the right-wing here may have actually prohibited their use as legal precedent, which surely is not what most of those voting yes had in mind.

Last year, Oklahoma lawmakers event voted to erect a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol.

University of Oklahoma law professor Rick Tepker, quoted on the CNN site. said this about the measure’s approval:

Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don’t cry. I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren’t going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin.

This spectacle lives on. So it goes in Oklahoma these days . . .


Democrats Retain Control

Image of President Barack Obama

Take a deep breath. Despite the breathless election media coverage and a gloating prediction by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, Democrats still retain control of the presidency and the Senate.

What this means is more partisan gridlock in Washington, but it doesn’t mean Republicans, who gained control of the House, will be able to advance much of their agenda, especially the extreme ideas of the Tea Party-inspired elected candidates. President Barack Obama will use his veto power if he has to and not much will move through the Senate because of obstructionism. The GOP doesn’t have enough votes to repeal the recent health care legislation.

Republicans don’t have the clear mandate the corporate media reminded us about hour-by-hour on election night with unrealistic analysis and cartoonish gravitas. Here are the facts: The country is divided. The economy is bad right now. Midterm elections normally tilt to the party who doesn’t hold the presidency. The previous three sentences in this paragraph don’t make for good television, but then the truth often doesn’t make for a good sound bite.

Meanwhile, it’s not much for Oklahoma Democrats, who were politically slaughtered Tuesday in statewide elections, but Inhofe was proven wrong once again. He had predicted before the election that the GOP would sweep the Senate and that he would regain the leadership of the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

In an interview with The New York Times, Inhofe said he was going to stop “wasting time” on global warming hearings when he got back his leadership position.

In another side note to the election, Sharron Angle, the extremist Tea Party candidate who ran against U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, was soundly defeated. U.S. Tom Coburn, if you remember, was one of those people Angle said was “right there” for her. Again, it’s not much for Oklahoma Democrats, but it’s always good news when a Coburn-backed candidate goes down in defeat.

Meanwhile, in what Andrew Leonard calls “perverse, twisted irony,” some good economic news was released a day after the election. Leonard writes:

… But it would be funny, in a soul-destroying, joy-crushing kind of way, if the U.S. economy finally started to get off the sickbed just when voters ruthlessly punished Democrats for failing to revive the patient.

The economic recovery will take more time, but Democrats could be positioned well for the 2012 elections. Sure, we’re going to have to listen to Republicans gloat and falsely claim they have a huge mandate to fight “big government,” but, on the national level, the next two years are going to be safe for Democrats as they recalculate.