High court says Muslims’ religious rights were violated, they can move forward with lawsuit alleging they were pressured to be informants.
The Center for Constitutional Rights scored a huge victory for several Muslims targeted by FBI agents when they refused to surveillance and inform intelligence agencies about their communities. Three men—Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari—filed an appeal with the federal courts when a judge dismissed their lawsuit against FBI agents who placed them on a no-fly list after they did not cooperate.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New York residents who said that their religious rights were violated under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
“The Supreme Court today vindicated our clients’ courageous stand for their religious freedom as Muslims who would not spy on their own faith community,” said Ramzi Kassem, Professor of Law and Director of the CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) Clinic at CUNY School of Law at a press conference. Kasseem argued the case before the court, while CUNY law students for eight years helped advocate for their clients.
“This decision sends a message that the FBI cannot continue to assume they can act with impunity in surveilling, harassing, and punishing the Muslim community, and other vulnerable communities federal law enforcement entities seek to target,” said Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The three men are seeking compensation for the damages and emotional and financial hardships endured when the no-fly list order stopped them from work and travel opportunities, as well as stigmatized them. Their experiences mirror a number of Muslims profiled by law enforcement and intelligence agencies after the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Tactics towards Muslim communities show intimidating practices such as withholding immigration status, and infiltrating mosques and Islamic-centered organizations and communities. It intensified in December 2017 when President Donald Trump signed the Muslim Ban executive order that prevented certain countries the ability to travel to the US. Earlier this year, the House voted to repeal the ban to work towards reuniting families separated by the no-entry order.
However, Prof. Kaseem sees the win as a critical step in dismantling racist, culturally-biased practices in surveillance. “The Court’s unanimous decision also sends a clear message to FBI agents who should think twice now before abusing the power to put people on the No-Fly List.”
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