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November 10, 2010

Tribes fear side effects of SQ 755

NORMAN — David Narcomey, a business owner and member of the Seminole Nation, said he sees dangers beyond just the religious issues at stake over the controversial Sharia law state question.

Narcomey agrees with several law experts that tribal relations and international trade within the state could feel the unintended consequences of State Question 755. Voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure last week that bars judges from considering international or Islamic Sharia law when deciding cases.

“This could blossom into a major threat to the sovereignty of our Indian nations,” Narcomey said. “There really is just a remote chance it could happen, but Pandora’s box can be opened with just that one case.”

The state question garnered national attention when Muneer Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, filed a lawsuit against the state question on grounds it unfairly targets his religion. A U.S. District court judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday to stop the state question from taking effect.

Oklahoma University law professor Taiawagi Helton, along with many other legal experts, said he thinks there are First Amendment problems by singling out the one religion. But Helton said the lesser-discussed language created by the state question that courts cannot look to the “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” could pose a problem if it is applied to tribal legal cases.

Helton, who specializes in American Indian law, said the “ambiguous” language could be interpreted in a way for the state to reject rulings based on tribal laws. He said an “opportunistic” person could argue tribal laws do not apply in arbitration cases or when the state is called to resolve a dispute.

Barbara Warner, executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, said she too has heard concerns the state question could carry a “detrimental” impact to tribes.

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