Muslims Civil Rights Suit Against NYPD Will Continue

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Steve Ambrose Contributor
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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided Oct. 13 to allow a discrimination lawsuit against the New York Police Department to proceed to the next stage of the trial.

The lawsuit comes from the Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights, both legal advocacy groups, on behalf of New Jersey Muslims who claimed they were singled out for surveillance because of their religious beliefs, according to a Washington Post report. The court opinion notes the plaintiff claimed the surveillance program is based on the notion that “Muslim religious identity ‘is a permissible proxy for criminality, and that Muslim individuals, businesses, and institutions can therefore be subject to pervasive surveillance not visited upon individuals, businesses, and institutions of any other religious faith or the public at large.’”

Judge Thomas L. Ambro, who wrote the opinion for the court, referenced significant historical periods of American discrimination before allowing the case to continue to the next phase.

What occurs here in one guise is not new.  We have been down similar roads before.  Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind.  We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight—that ‘[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,] not race, creed, or color.’

Judge Ambro did clarify that while he acknowledges New York City’s right to provide security, “the gravity of the threat alone” will not dismiss questions about the legality of law enforcement tactics.

According to a released statement on Oct. 13 by the Muslim Advocates, the surveillance program for the NYPD began shortly after the attack on Sept. 11. The NYPD then monitored “at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools, and two Muslim Student Associations” just in New Jersey. The NYPD used video surveillance, photography, and community mapping. They also used undercover agents and informants.

Farhaj Hassan the lead plaintiff of the case was pleased with the early judicial victory.

“This is a significant ruling for all Americans…the court recognized our claim that the NYPD is violating our basic rights as Americans and were wrong to do so. No one should ever be spied on and treated like a suspect simply because of his or her faith…Enough is enough.”

Baher Azmy, the CCR legal director, was emphatic: “There is no Muslim exception to the Constitution.”

A spokesman for the New York City Law Department reiterated that “the issue is whether the NYPD in fact surveilled individuals and businesses solely because they are Muslim, something the NYPD has never condoned. Stigmatizing a group based on its religion is contrary to our values.”

The ruling from Ambro reverses an earlier decision from a district court to dismiss the case. It will now return to the district court to continue proceedings.

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