The United States' court system is in danger, if you ask state Rep. Rex Duncan.
Duncan, R-Sand Springs, believes international law and Islamic Sharia law are a "looming threat," encroaching upon the decisions being made in U.S. courts.
That is why he wrote the legislation that became State Question 755, dubbed the "Save Our State Amendment."
SQ 755 would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to prohibit courts from considering or using international law or Islamic Sharia law and "makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases," according to the text of the measure.
"State Question 755 is a pre-emptive strike against a known, clear and present threat to our court system," Duncan said.
Duncan and Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, were the primary sponsors of House Joint Resolution 1056, upon which the state question is based. That resolution passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate.
If passed, however, the measure could have limited impact on court decisions, said Andrew C. Spiropoulos, director of Oklahoma City University's Center for the Study of State Constitutional Law and Government.
"The problem is that it's just not going to work the way proponents want it to work," Spiropoulos said. "It's unusual to directly look at international law without having some kind of law in place that requires judges to do that."
The laws already in place in such situations are American, so the measure would have no effect, he said.
"At the end of the day, (SQ 755) won't do any harm, because if judges want to rely on international law, they'll find a way to connect it to American law," Spiropoulos said.
Duncan has been concerned about statements from some U.S. Supreme Court justices in recent years that the U.S. should consider international law.
He referred in particular to remarks by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
"The notion that it is improper to look beyond the borders of the United States in grappling with hard questions has a certain kinship to the view that the U.S. Constitution is a document essentially frozen in time as of the date of its ratification," Ginsburg said in a 2005 speech at the American Society of International Law.
Such comments, Duncan said, are "ridiculous."
"Just because they don't like the law, it is indefensible to rely on the law of France or Saudi Arabia or Germany or pick a country," he said. "Just because you don't like American law, you shouldn't be looking to the law of another country to create a law you deem proper."
Sharia is a collective code of ethics by which Muslims live, based on the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed, said Razi Hashmi, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Hashmi said there are two specific forms of Sharia: religious observance " such as rules on how to dress and how to wash before prayer " and Sharia, dealing with civil and criminal matters.
"For me as a Muslim, it is to abstain from drinking. When I get married, it will be for me and my wife to enter into a contract in Sharia," Hashmi said. "It is a set of rules applied to live your life and get closer to God."
Hashmi said he knows of no individuals or organizations advocating the use of Sharia in courts.
"Obviously, we understand the separation of church and state, and people wouldn't argue those are bad things," he said. "If Sharia operated in context of the court, it couldn't supercede the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution. There is no need for any type of Sharia law to operate."
Hashmi worries Duncan has not studied Sharia, he said.
"He fears something, but he doesn't know what it is," Hashmi said. "I think it's really just silly, and when a bill such as this comes about, it really is just a slap in the face to good, hardworking, American Muslims trying to go about their business and provide for their families and be proud of who they are and what their faith is."
Duncan did not consult any Muslims or experts in Sharia before his measure was written, relying instead on his own research and a "career-long study." He referred to SQ 755 as "one man's bill, one man's resolution."
Duncan said he knows of no cases in Oklahoma in which Sharia was considered. He singled out Sharia in his measure because he believes it is a "competing constitution" in terms of its relationship with U.S. law.
"State Question 755 will bar the door to a hijacking of our Constitution," Duncan said. "If they're (Muslims) here to be part of this country, this shouldn't be a threat to them."
Hashmi believes the question is a "cheap shot," born out of the "politics of fear and Islamophobia."
"I think it just demonstrates a need to harness fear," he said. "We're Americans. I was born here. This is our country."
STATE QUESTION 755
A "yes" vote for State Question 755 would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to forbid courts from considering Islamic Sharia law.
A "no" vote would not amend the Constitution.
photo Razi Hashmi, executive director of CAIR Oklahoma, discusses Sharia at his Gold Dome office with Nazia Khan, operations coordinator. Photo/Mark Hancock