By Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service
Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights on March 21 appealed a federal judge’s ruling that affirmed the right of the New York City Police Department to spy on Muslims based on their faith and ethnicity.
In February, Newark U.S. District Judge William Martini rejected charges of illegal spying, stating that any harm suffered by the plaintiffs was not because of the spying program but because of news reports that revealed the secret program in 2011.
The appeal was filed with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
“The message of the decision is that it’s OK to spy on Muslim Americans,” said lead plaintiff Syed Farhaj Hassan, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2001 and served in Iraq in 2003. “It’s a slap in the face to American Muslims who have served this country, served their community, and served their families by being peaceful citizens here.”
The two legal organizations argue the NYPD violated the constitutional rights of their clients based on their religion and caused them harm. They allege fear of being spied on discouraged Muslims from attending mosque or speaking in public, and it scared them from making charitable contributions to Muslim charities.
The lawsuit does not seek money for the plaintiffs, but it asks the court to stop NYPD spying in New Jersey. The suit also asks the court to order the NYPD to expunge all records of the plaintiffs collected through the spying program.
Lawyers said internal NYPD documents included a list of 28 “ancestries of interest” and other policies showing that officers based their spying on the ethnic and religious background of their targets.
Since 2002, the NYPD has spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two Muslim elementary schools, and two Muslim Student Associations on college campuses in New Jersey, lawyers said. Forms of monitoring include video surveillance, photographing and community mapping.
The lawsuit is the first of three challenging the NYPD program.
Hassan is confident of victory, he said, because past civil rights cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, also lost their first rounds before winning on appeal.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs also maintained some hope that new New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may halt the program. While de Blasio’s predecessor Michael Bloomberg resisted efforts to stop the NYPD spying program, de Blasio said police should only investigate people based on leads.
“I’m pretty sure that when we look back at this, we’re going to be ashamed that we allowed this type of action to occur,” Hassan said. “There’s no way that peaceful citizens going about their everyday business should be spied on by police for no reason other than the color of their skin and the creed in which they believe.”
UPDATE: On April 15, the NYPD officially abandoned the program. Click here to read a post by Blog from the Capital’s Don Byrd.