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Oklahoma English-only measure challenged

A Tulsa attorney says State Question 751 infringes free speech in Oklahoma and could discourage foreign tourists from visiting. The measure won 75.5 percent approval in last week's general election.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: November 11, 2010

An English-only measure put on the ballot by the Legislature and approved by voters has been challenged in court the day after a federal judge put on hold a legislatively backed anti-Sharia law proposal.

Legal action against a third successful ballot measure, requiring people to present identification before voting, also is expected.

A lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Tulsa County District Court on State Question 751, which requires with a few exceptions that official state actions be conducted only in English.

James C. Thomas, a Tulsa attorney and a University of Tulsa law professor, said Wednesday he filed the lawsuit because SQ 751 infringes on free speech. It violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the free speech clause of the state's constitution, he said.

"This English only takes away the right to speak of all public officials of Oklahoma," he said. "They cannot render service ... in any language other than English."

Rep. Randy Terrill, who wrote the measure, issued a statement Wednesday defending the law, saying it applies only to official actions of the state and does not affect communication between individuals or businesses or American Indian languages.

"At a time of budget shortfall when areas like education and public safety are facing cuts, this lawsuit would directly and needlessly reduce funding for our classrooms and other important needs," Terrill said.

SQ 751 could hurt the state economically because it would discourage foreign tourists from visiting Oklahoma, Thomas said.

They cannot receive police or medical services in case of an emergency, said Thomas, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Delilah Christine Gentges, identified as a Tulsa County resident and an Oklahoma taxpayer, he said.

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