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By Jordan Edwards

The BJC joined dozens of political, religious and human rights organizations in urging the United States Department of Justice to investigate the New York Police Department’s allegedly “discriminatory surveillance of American Muslim communities.”

A letter sent to the DOJ on Oct. 24 cites “unlawful religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslims in New York City (and beyond).” Along with violating constitutional rights, the letter maintains the practice has “frayed the social fabric of Muslim communities by breeding anxiety, distrust, and fear.” The NYPD, the letter claims, not only monitors electronic avenues such as blogs, but it also sends plainclothes officers to patrol neighborhoods with large Muslim populations.

The letter highlights specific areas in which these practices have hindered the lives of Muslims in the New York area. Attendance in mosques, for example, has decreased and disruptions “have also diverted precious time and resources away from religious education and counseling, both of which are part of mosques’ core religious mission,” according to the letter. In addition, the letter says that Muslim student associations (MSAs) have retreated from engaging in political conversations. Not only has attendance dropped at events, but “certain student groups have instituted a ban on political discussion in MSA spaces, out of fear that these conversations will trigger additional surveillance.”

The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of Interfaith Alliance, points out that measures like the ones taken by the NYPD have an effect on all Americans, not just Muslims.

“One of the foundations of this nation is freedom of religion for everyone, yet this fundamental freedom is threatened if even one group’s ability to freely practice its faith is attacked,” he said in a news release. “The fact that people of faith might have to fear going to their houses of worship or freely practicing their religion is about as un-American as un-American gets.”

The letter calls for the DOJ to conduct an investigation under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which allows the United States Attorney General to conduct investigations involving “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers … that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

The large and diverse group of signatories includes Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish and Sikh organizations as well as civil rights agencies, including the ACLU, the NAACP and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

“Surveillance of citizens based on nothing more than their religious affiliation flies in the face of our constitutional free exercise protections,” said BJC Staff Counsel Nan Futrell. “Unwarranted government intrusion upon Muslims’ right to worship is a threat to people of all faiths.”

From the November/December 2013 Report from the Capital. Click here for the next article.