NORMAN — Local attorney Micheal Salem recounted several “unpopular” cases he won over his 38 years of work, emitting glimpses of passion for his career and defending civil rights for Oklahomans.
Salem is one of three Oklahoma attorneys selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association for the 2013 Fern Holland Courageous Lawyer Award, which is given to an OBA member who has courageously performed in a manner befitting the highest ideals of the profession.
Salem will receive his award Nov. 14 during the 2013 OBA annual meeting Nov. 13-15 at Sheraton Hotel in Oklahoma City.
“I’m not sure I belong in that rarefied atmosphere,” Salem said of the award. “She (Fern Holland) made a very significant sacrifice.”
Salem said Holland was involved in Iraq conflicts and was killed. Holland’s “true dedication to law resulted in the ultimate sacrifice,” he said, adding that it was an honor to be selected.
The local attorney was selected for the award after representing Muneer Awad, former executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Salem said Awad began the case on his own and, in between filing a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction hearing, Muneer retained him.
The two worked to block a new state constitutional amendment that would have prohibited state courts from recognizing “Sharia law” or Islamic law.
State Question 755, the “Save Our State Amendment,” was approved by 70 percent of voters in November 2010. They were up against popular vote, but Salem’s and Awad’s actions helped stop what they saw as a backslide.
“Oklahoma was heading down a path I think would have been very destructive,” Salem said. “It would have been similar to the segregation of blacks. That is not progress.”
If SQ 755 had been passed, Salem said it would have condemned an entire religion, condemned any foreign country and culture, and fostered prejudice and xenophobia, or an irrational fear for what’s perceived to be foreign or strange.