For example, Oklahoma wouldn’t be able to recognize a marriage that occurred in a foreign country because the marriage would have occurred under foreign law.
“It was amazing. There were exhibits we introduced that showed what people were thinking about this amendment,” he said.
Salem still keeps a postcard sent to him during that time that basically asked him to tell his client, Awad, that if he didn’t like it here, he should get on his camel and go home. Awad was born in Michigan and went to school in Georgia, Salem said with a laugh.
“That card just kind of illustrates the depth of ignorance people have about this,” he said.
It also was a reminder of the prejudice still very prevalent today and how close it came to the surface in the litigation.
Salem said he hopes the litigation is used for education about civic responsibility and constitutional rights and the dangers that come along with making decisions about people based upon their religious beliefs.
He’s not sure the Oklahoma legislature has learned his lesson about this yet, he said.
“Litigation is meant to create understanding,” he said. “I just wonder how many more teaching moments we can afford.”
Other cases of note: Salem also has been involved in numerous other cases dealing with federal civil rights litigation, which he has devoted a substantial amount of his practice to. Some of those included challenging religious practices in elementary schools involving the Little Axe and New Lima school districts in 1985 and 1992, respectively.
The Little Axe lawsuit garnered him the Oklahoma Courageous Advocacy Award for the Oklahoma Bar Association in 1984. Salem said the case was referenced in the congressional debate that took place in the ’80s dealing with religion in schools.
The New Lima lawsuit is, to Salem’s knowledge, the only establishment clause ever tried to a jury, which ruled in favor of his client.