Election 2014- Amendment One

Oct 30, 2014

Alabama has the longest constitution in the United States. Next week, voters may make it a bit longer. One of the items on the upcoming ballot is called Amendment One. If passed, this would prevent Alabama courts from recognizing foreign law. State senator Gerald Allen is the chief sponsor of the measure. He says the amendment is there to protect the constitution…

“We as a legislature felt like it’s important to bring this before the people of Alabama to let their voice be heard because we’re living in a changing world, for instance, like myself and other elected officials we have taken an oath of office to defend the constitution of the United States and the state constitution as well.”

Allen says Alabama’s constitution already protects the state’s citizens from foreign laws; however this amendment would beef things up…

   “The current rule of law that we have in place is adequate and suitable for all citizens and we feel like that’s a good thing for us to take a next step by engrossing this into the state constitution.”

Allen brought a similar bill before the state legislature in 2011. It was called the Alabama Sharia Law Amendment.  It was supposed to prohibit state courts from implementing Islamic Sharia law when making decisions. Critics say punishments under Sharia law include public stoning, amputations, and execution. A law like the one Allen proposed passed in Oklahoma. It was found to be unconstitutional. Allen says this meant re-writes for his bill…

     “If this was brought before the supreme court or the Alabama supreme court that it would pass without being thrown out. That’s why it took several times to rewrite the bill itself, to make sure it was correct and to make sure it would be constitutional.”

Even with the re-writes there are still concerns about what this amendment could mean for religion in Alabama. Scott Douglas is the executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries. He says it could hamper efforts by religious groups…

“What it does do, if tasked, it would undermine Alabama religious authority for everyone from Catholic priests to Jewish rabbis to every religion in between. It is a very dangerous and unnecessary amendment.”

He says one area of concern is with adoptions and marriages...

   “Who’s to say that some person or disgruntled ex-spouse of someone wants to file a lawsuit about it, thus complicating the adoption? Say you have an interfaith marriage between two different religions; this law would allow a disgruntled party to interfere with existing legal law.”

Douglas adds fighting this amendment is about protecting religious freedoms…

   “It allows for legal intervention into that protected sector of religious freedom which would diminish our religious freedom in any way you can possibly imagine. Someone may get upset about something and begin to pursue it. It’s not saying the person would win the case, it just allows for excessive, intentional sometimes highly emotional legal intervention.”

Randy Brinson is the head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama. He says both versions of this amendment were brought about as a reaction to the growth of some Muslim communities in places like Tennessee.

“And they’re just afraid that these particular laws, particularly those that dealt with sharia law would be imposed or at least recognized by the state of Alabama or the federal government and that would be imposed by the state of Alabama.”

Brinson says this amendment could possibly hurt organizations like his or Douglas’ by racking up legal fees if people choose to challenge what they do in court…

    “This could create a whole other legal conundrum for the adoptions and things they have already worked to establish methods of obtaining these adoptions or marriages or different transactions such as that. Those could all be usurped or put into a whole new legal jeopardy.”

These faith based organizations are fighting back. Brinson says his group is reaching out through the internet…

    “We’re doing right now, is a series of e-mails to about 900 thousand people across the state and asking them to sign up to recognize that they are against the amendment and  to tell their family members and people of voting age to vote against the amendment.” Brinson adds “ also to hopefully inform the legislature so that these things are not too hastily written and try to pass in flurry of bills in the legislature.”

One of the concerns with the amendment outside of religious groups is foreign companies such as Mercedes or Airbus. The amendment’s author senator Gerald Allen says this measure is not aimed at foreign companies…

“The amendment itself precludes any contracts or commitments that this state has with foreign companies. This only deals with matters, anything that deals with family court.”

Paul Horwitz is a professor at the University of Alabama Law School where he specializes in constitutional law. He says it is interesting that the amendment doesn’t apply to foreign companies…

“It’s pretty clear they recognize it’s not a great idea, and I’ll say, in fairness, if that’s what it is; the good news is that it doesn’t do anything to individuals.”

He says if that is the case, there really isn’t a need for the amendment…

“If this law is read properly, it basically is redundant. It basically says we’re going to spend a great deal of time and money saying what is already the case. Kind of like passing a law saying the sky is blue.”

When asked about what the critics of the amendment have to say, senator Allen says everyone has a right to their opinion but moves like this are necessary to protect Alabamians…

  “I think it is upon us, every generation should take the necessary steps to safeguard the rights and freedoms we enjoy so, so much. I think that this is what this is all about, it’s that the changing world is taking place and we must be willing to safeguard freedom for the next generation.”

Amendment One will be on next Tuesday’s ballot. Its fate now lies in the hands of Alabama’s voters.