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An Oklahoma constitutional amendment that purports to ban Islamic law in the state singles out Muslims for discrimination and should not be enforced, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other groups have told a federal appeals court.
The so-called "Save Our State Amendment" barring enforcement of sharia passed with 70 percent of the vote in November, but Americans United and the other organizations assert that the provision is unconstitutional.
"The amendment singles out one faith tradition for government hostility," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "That violates our fundamental constitutional requirement that government remain neutral on religion.
"Oklahoma doesn't need a special amendment to protect it from government-imposed Islamic law," he continued. "The First Amendment already does that.
"I think we all know that sharia has no chance of taking over Oklahoma," Lynn concluded. "This entire incident has been a sad example of politically motivated religious intolerance."
A lawsuit against the amendment was filed by Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Council for American-Islamic Relations. In November, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a preliminary injunction in Awad v. Ziriax, to stop the Oklahoma State Election Board from certifying the election results.
The case is now on appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a friend-of-the-court brief, Americans United and other organizations urge the appeals court to void the amendment.
The brief asserts that the amendment was passed after a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment that was often led by state legislators. The amendment, the groups argue, sends a clear message of governmental disapproval of Islam.
"[A] provision like the Save Our State Amendment communicates to Muslims that they - and they alone - are likely to receive inferior treatment on account of their religion," asserts the brief.
The brief was drafted by the American Jewish Committee and attorneys Craig C. Martin and Joshua M. Segal of the firm of Jenner & Block LLP, with input from attorneys at Americans United and other organizations.
Other groups joining the brief are the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, the Interfaith Alliance and the Union for Reform Judaism.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
"The American people deserve to understand why you are supporting even more deficit-busting tax giveaways for giant corporations, while also cheerleading Republican demands to inflict painful, job-killing austerity on everyone else."
The Republican Party's debt-ceiling hostage scheme has benefited from the support of the United States' largest corporate lobbying organization, which has given its stamp of approval to the GOP's push for major federal spending cuts, punitive new work requirements for aid programs, and permitting changes sought by the fossil fuel industry.
While House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) office has reportedly not met with representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during the debt ceiling standoff, a representative of the powerful business group said earlier this week that such a meeting would be pointless given that the Chamber and the GOP are so closely aligned.
Neil Bradley, the Chamber's chief policy officer, toldPolitico earlier this week that a meeting with McCarthy would be a "cheerleading session."
"I see the relationship as respectful, so I'm not worried about wasting his time to come in and say, 'Look how much I agree with you,'" said Bradley, who previously served as McCarthy's deputy chief of staff.
In a letter to the Chamber's chief executive on Friday, a trio of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) slammed Bradley's remarks and demanded to know "how the Chamber justifies supporting the Republican agenda of continued tax cuts for the wealthy, while cheerleading for threats to impose a default and austerity for everyone else."
"Instead of pressing the speaker to drop his radical demands and pass a clean debt limit increase, Bradley noted that the Chamber has pressed the White House to come to a bipartisan agreement with McCarthy," the letter reads. "Indeed, Bradley noted that the Chamber is aligned with House Republicans on their debt ceiling demands, including on spending caps, work requirements, and energy permitting."
Warren, joined by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), accused the Chamber of fully backing the GOP's "shameless hypocrisy" by lobbying for tax breaks that Republicans are expected to include in a tax cut package coming sometime next month.
"The American people deserve to understand why you are supporting even more deficit-busting tax giveaways for giant corporations, while also cheerleading Republican demands to inflict painful, job-killing austerity on everyone else in a pretense of 'fiscal responsibility,'" the senators wrote, demanding to know how much the Chamber has spent on tax-related lobbying this year and what discussions the group has had with Republicans on the House's tax-writing committee.
According to OpenSecrets, the Chamber has spent more than $19 million total on federal lobbying so far this year—the most of any organization. The Chamber says it has met with more than 150 Republican and Democratic lawmakers throughout the debt ceiling fight, which GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) publicly described as a hostage situation.
The Democratic senators' letter came as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the federal government will run out of money to meet its obligations by June 5 if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling.
The Washington Postreported Friday that White House and GOP negotiators are "closing in on an agreement that would raise the debt ceiling by two years—a key priority of the Biden administration—while also essentially freezing government spending on domestic programs and slightly increasing funding for the military and veterans affairs."
When accounting for inflation, keeping non-military spending flat would mean potentially significant real-term cuts to key aid programs, from nutrition assistance to housing.
The Chamber has openly endorsed the GOP push for spending caps and warned President Joe Biden against using his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally prevent a default, claiming such a move would be "as economically calamitous as a default."
On Friday, a top Treasury Department official said the White House will not invoke its 14th Amendment authority to continue paying the nation's bills.
The treasury secretary's warning came as a Biden administration official said the president won't invoke the 14th Amendment in order to avoid a first-ever U.S. default.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday warned Congress that the United States government will run out of money to pay its bills on June 5 if lawmakers don't reach an agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
"Based on the most recent available data, we now estimate that Treasury will have insufficient resources to satisfy the government's obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt limit by June 5," Yellen wrote in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
"We have learned from past debt limit impasses that waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States," Yellen noted. "In fact, we have already seen Treasury's borrowing costs increase substantially for securities maturing in early June."
Earlier this month, Yellen said that the so-called "X-date"—the day on which the first-ever U.S. default will occur—could come as early as June 1.
"If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position, and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests," she stressed in Friday's letter.
\u201cJanet Yellen updates the X date\u2026 it is now next Monday, June 5.\n\nLetter to Congress:\u201d— Julie Tsirkin (@Julie Tsirkin) 1685132574
As The New York Timesnotes:
Ms. Yellen's letter comes as the White House and House Republicans have been racing to agree on a deal that would lift the nation's $31.4 trillion borrowing cap and prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt. The Treasury Department hit the debt limit on January 19 and has since been employing accounting maneuvers to ensure the United States can continue paying its bills on time...
On Friday, she detailed that the federal government is due to make more than $130 billion in scheduled payments during the first two days of June—including payments to veterans and Social Security and Medicare recipients—leaving the Treasury Department with "an extremely low level of resources"...
While negotiators have been in round-the-clock talks, no deal has been announced. Still, the contours of an agreement between the White House and Republicans are taking shape. That deal would raise the debt limit for two years while imposing strict caps on discretionary spending not related to the military or veterans for the same period.
Biden administration officials and congressional Democrats have accused Republicans of "hostage-taking" during the debt limit standoff, an allegation embraced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) earlier this week.
Scores of Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates have called on President Joe Biden to exercise his constitutional authority and invoke the 14th Amendment—which states in part that "the validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."
However, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said Friday that Biden will not invoke the 14th Amendment.
"The 14th Amendment can't solve our challenges," Adeyemo asserted on CNN. "Now, ultimately, the only thing that can do that is Congress doing what it's done 78 other times, raising the debt limit."
"We don't have a Plan B that allows us to meet the commitments that we've made to our creditors, to our seniors, to our veterans, to the American people," Adeyemo added ominously.
"Banning buying homes based on citizenship and registering your property did not bode well in history," said one lawmaker. "This is the Republicans rewriting the Chinese Exclusion Act."
Days after a group of Chinese citizens sued Florida's government over its new law restricting Chinese citizens from purchasing property in the state, U.S. Rep. Al Green this week warned of a "proliferation" of such bans and unveiled federal legislation to prohibit them.
The proposal would affirm that federal law, such as the Fair Housing Act, takes precedence over state bans restricting who can and cannot legally purchase real estate or farmland. It would also allow people to sue in federal court and have a right to court-ordered relief including an injunction if they've been harmed by bans like the one approved by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Fair Housing Act explicitly prohibits discrimination in housing based on national origin, race, sex, gender identity, religion, and disability.
Despite the long-standing law, Florida this month became the latest state to pass restrictions on property ownership, targeting Chinese, Russian, Iranian, Syrian, Cuban, Venezuelan, and North Korean citizens. DeSantis claimed Chinese people have been "gobbling up" land in the state and said the law is intended to stop the Chinese Communist Party from gaining influence and spying in the state.
"That is not in the best interests of Florida to have the Chinese Communist Party owning farmland, owning land close to military bases," said the governor, who announced his 2024 presidential campaign this week.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, also a Republican, signed a ban on Chinese companies buying property in March, and the Texas Legislature had advanced a similar bill targeting companies and government entities headquartered in China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.
According to the National Agricultural Law Center, 21 states have laws restricting foreign ownership of farmland. More than 30 states have drafted or advanced legislation to either tighten those restrictions or introduce new ones.
"I don't think we ought to allow 50 states to have the opportunity to pass laws that can impact foreign affairs, which really is the province of the executive branch of the federal government," Green told HuffPost on Thursday. "I don't think we should wait until we get 30, 50, whatever number of different laws to act."
The measures have drawn comparisons to the so-called "alien land laws" that were in place in the early 20th century before being struck down by courts and state legislatures. The laws prohibited Chinese and Japanese immigrants from owning land and "severely exacerbated violence and discrimination against Asian communities," according to the ACLU, which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Florida this week.
"Banning buying homes based on citizenship and registering your property did not bode well in history... This is the Republicans rewriting the Chinese Exclusion Act," said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) this week, referring to the 1882 law that banned Chinese workers from immigrating to the United States.
\u201c\u2026when you ask me why we worry about anti-China rhetoric\u2026 many people can\u2019t differentiate between someone who works for the CCP from an average Chinese American. These laws will increase anti Asian suspicion & hate. https://t.co/z7j9TuyfA3\u201d— Grace Meng (@Grace Meng) 1684285341
Contrary to DeSantis' claim that Chinese citizens are buying large amounts of property across Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, foreigners owned only 3.1% of farmland at the end of 2021, and about a third of that land was owned by Canadians. Less than 1% of the land—0.03% of all farmland in the U.S.—was owned by Chinese citizens or entities.