Kevin (erf_) wrote,

oklahoma state question 755

There's been a bit of a brouhaha over the recent passing of State Question 755, an Oklahoma referendum that amends the Oklahoma state constitution to "makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases...forbids courts from considering or using international law...forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law." (Source.) The response has been, to put it mildly, frothing at the mouth insane. Liberals have decried the passing of the bill as a frivolous, paranoid, race-baiting validation of a non-existent threat to the jurisdiction of the American legal system and conservatives are positioning the liberal response as evidence of the Left's deliberately negligent complicity in the erosion of American institutions. Accusations of ignorance abound on both sides, with the Left claiming that the Right has no understanding of separation of church and state as defined by the First Amendment and the Right claiming that the liberal media has been deliberately ignoring serious recent challenges to constitutional law and is underestimating the threat internationalist judicial precedents are posing to the American legal system. Cue lots and lots of screaming, lots of disparaging comments about Oklahomans and East Coast elitists and Obamacare and the Tea Party and "inbred hicks" and "sand n*ggers" that have absolutely no relevance to the discussion, lots of donkey braying and elephant honking in the mud pit. Red and blue at each other's throats, not because of the issue being discussed but because the other team keeps reaching for the ball. Political discourse as usual in America.

Let's be frank here: There is no debate. The controversy is manufactured. The grassroots campaign against Sharia is based on a demonstrably false premise--that Sharia law is establishing, or is in any way interested in establishing, a legal precedent in America--and the only reason why it is being taken seriously is because a small handful of extreme right-wing media pundits (I'm sure you can dig up a few names) have constructed an issue around it to give the vast, heterogenous diaspora that is the Right another common cause with which to attack the Left. It's ridiculous, and any American high school student who has actually read the Constitution can succinctly explain how our existing legal protections prevent foreign challenges to the supremacy of constitutional law in the United States, regardless of current or future legal precedent. (Hint: Article Three, Section Two. Foreign courts have no legal jurisdiction over American citizens unless they are extradited by American courts for crimes committed abroad. Period.) All this law does is lend credibility to the idea of Islam as an ideological threat to American institutions, a belief grounded entirely in post-9/11 anti-Islamic hysteria and public ignorance of what Islam is. And, of course, make life miserable for Oklahoman Muslims, of which there are not many.

But media sources more sympathetic to the Left are not inculpable for letting this idiotic measure pass. The anti-Sharia campaign drew much attention to cases like S.D. v. M.J.R., in which a New Jersey court ruled that a woman could not get a restraining order after her husband raped her because he claimed he was simply performing the duties required of him by Sharia (a ruling emphatically overturned by an appellate court), or the case of Sultaana Freeman, a Muslim convert who refused to be photographed unveiled for her driver's license on First Amendment grounds. It's easy to understand why the media didn't pick up on these stories when they first broke; people use absurd excuses to defend themselves from legal prosecution all the time. Yet when SQ 755 was put on the ballot, and the issue became a matter of public interest, with State Representative Rex Duncan and anti-Muslim hate group Act! For America successfully exploiting liberal ignorance on those two cases to persuade Oklahoma voters that they had to take the initiative in preventing encroachment of Sharia on the American judicial process, the press should have put feet on the ground and investigated his claims and the reasoning behind them (however silly), in order to allow Oklahoma voters to have an informed opinion on election day. But, everyone but Fox News ignored it, and it passed. With 70% of the vote.

Search SQ 755 on Google and you will find only pro-SQ 755 articles. Search for S.D. v. M.J.R. and you will only find pro-SQ 755 articles. Search Sultaana Freeman and you will find only Fox News. The ultra-right media played its usual spin game, talking always about "a court case in New Jersey" or "a woman in Florida" but never mentioning names, lest talk show listeners and Fox News watchers have the audacity to bypass their voices of authority and look up primary sources on the Internet. But, for all their misinformation, they were the ones that came off as being better informed. The non-crazy press never bothered to do a little digging and report that in the cases of both S.D. v. M.J.R. and Sultaana Freeman's DMV request, the courts soundly rejected arguments under the First Amendment the deferment of judicial authority to religious law, pointing to a considerable body of legal precedent preventing exactly the kind of Sharia-state nightmare scenario Duncan warned his constituents about. By not addressing the talking points of the lunatic fringe, mainstream Oklahoman media outlets allowed voters to believe that only the lunatic fringe knew what they were talking about.

The Huffington Post had three articles on SQ 755 but never bothered to look up the name and number of the referendum. Rachel Maddow did a wonderful section on Islamophobic lawmaking on her show (calling out Newt Gingrich for supporting a federal version of the measure!), but never mentions any particular legislation by name. The New York Times, the Washington Post...obviously all this is beneath their attention. All of the stories I'm seeing from the Left focus on the inherent Muslim-baiting nature of the referendum, First Amendment issues, and so on, which is worrisome, but not one of them mentions that Article 3, Section 2 knocks the argument for the necessity of the amendment out of the park. (Local Oklahoma newspapers, to their credit, did this--unfortunately, no one reads newspaper editorials anymore.) Liberal Oklahomans could have ended this nonsense in one local Fox interview (not cable Fox News) if they had actually addressed the fears and concerns that caused the referendum to be drafted in the first place, rather than trying to deliver a "no, that's racist and against the First Amendment" message to a campaign bolstered by thinly veiled racist sentiment and evangelical Christian opposition to the First Amendment. They preached exclusively to the choir.

For the first time, I'm actually sympathetic when Tea Party crazies complain that the mainstream media doesn't cover issues of importance to them. No, you can't reason with furious lunatic wingnuts, and you're not likely to persuade them. But do you really want the likes of Fox News to have a monopoly on their information? If we do not at least make an effort to respond to their fear-mongering, do they not have to turn to Fox News if they want to learn about Koran burning and anti-immigrant border fences?

If you want to stop a man from going to a lynching, you must first persuade him that it is safe to put down his pitchfork.

Oklahoma is mostly conservative, so the liberal media doesn't give a shit about Oklahoma. Since the liberal media doesn't give a shit about Oklahoma, Oklahomas swing conservative. And before you know it 70% of Oklahoma is voting for a "pre-emptive strike," as Duncan himself calls it, against the laws of another culture, simply because they don't understand the protections the law of the land offers them in their own. Seventy goddamn percent.

This was a referendum. I don't care how frivolous it was, or how unlikely it seemed that it would pass. It was put to a fucking vote. The social role of the fourth estate is to produce an informed electorate. And Oklahoma does not, by any stretch of the imagination, have an informed electorate.

Look at the other, less publicized measures on the ballot. SQ 751 "requires that official State actions be in English." SQ 756 "prohibits making a person participate in a health care system." SQ 752 mandates that newly appointed judges "can not be lawyers...nor can they have a lawyer in their immediate family." That these issues were brought to referendum depresses me. This is the voice of people who feel they have lost their connection to power.

For a state signed to a federal government declared in its founding document to be by the people, of the people, for the people--all the people, not just blues or reds--that is simply not acceptable.
Tags: noose, politics, the fourth estate

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