Gov. Mary Fallin and state lawmakers should “embrace diversity” instead of demonizing the Muslim community, said Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
His remarks came after Fallin signed House Bill 1060, which prohibits foreign laws from being enforced in Oklahoma courtrooms. Authored by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, the legislation evolved after a federal appeals court ruled that a similar measure, State Question 755, was unconstitutional because it singled out Sharia law.
Considered the moral code and religious law of the Islam faith, Sharia law covers a wide spectrum of topics that range from crime and economics to diet and prayer.
Passage of HB 1060 was “an attempt to attack the same issue” as SQ 755, Soltani said. “We believe it is targeting the Oklahoma Islamic population.”
He said the legislation could heighten anti-Muslim sentiments.
“That’s what we’re afraid of,” Soltani said. “Why are people like … Kern trying to demonize Oklahoma Muslims and outlaw our way of life? They should embrace the diversity of Oklahomans.”
The new law, Soltani charges, is confusing and likely will be challenged in court. CAIR is working with the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on a possible appeal.
“What does it achieve when there already are safeguards in place to protect Oklahoma and federal laws?” he asked. “You’re providing a solution in search of a problem.”
Although HB 1060 prohibits individuals from using foreign laws in Oklahoma courts, it does not mandate the same restrictions for businesses and corporations.
“What we’re trying to determine is if a [legal] challenge is appropriate and how will we challenge it,” said Brady Henderson, ACLU legal director.
Kern said she’s confident the new measure, which Fallin signed April 18, will not spur discrimination or violence toward Muslims.
“Oklahomans are very kind and have good, strong values in working with others,” she said. “That (anti- Muslim sentiment) was not the intent of the bill, and I don’t believe that will be the outcome of it.”
Some in the state’s Muslim community worry that bigotry was behind the April 27 desecration of an Oklahoma City mosque. Vandals spray-painted the building with profanities and a drawing of what appeared to be a penis, according to investigators. The FBI is investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, but no suspects have been arrested, said agency spokesman Rick Raines.
Investigators said they are unsure if the vandalism was connected to the Boston Marathon bombings, in which the alleged perpetrators were two Chechen Muslim brothers.
Kern acknowledged she doesn’t know of any criminal or civil court case that allowed Sharia law to supersede Oklahoma’s statutes. “It’s prudent,” she said, “to protect citizens before something happens.”
Fallin’s communications director, Alex Weintz, said the governor signed the measure as a “reaffirmation of the principle that the laws we recognize in Oklahoma are the laws of Oklahoma and the laws of the United States, not foreign laws.”
He added that HB 1060 is not a “condemnation, or even a commentary, on any religion. The governor condemns religious persecution of any kind.”
Soltani is unconvinced. He said he reached out to the governor and her spokesman but never received a response.
Soltani compared the fear of American-Muslims to the panic U.S. leaders demonstrated by forcing 110,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“It’s exactly the same thing. But many others have faced this challenge, particularly African-Americans and the Japanese-Americans,” he said.
“It just makes things harder when our state representatives are doing things like this. We don’t know what [Kern’s] concerns are or why she and other representatives are targeting the Muslim community. Where do you draw the line? Our biggest concern is this is just the beginning.”