NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department’s widespread spying programs directed at Muslims have undermined free worship by innocent people and should be declared unconstitutional, religious leaders and civil rights advocates said Tuesday after the filing of a federal lawsuit.
“Our mosque should be an open, religious, a spiritual sanctuary, but NYPD spying has turned it into a place of suspicion and censorship,” Hamid Hassan Raza, an imam named as a plaintiff, told a rally outside police headquarters shortly after the suit was filed in federal court in Manhattan.
The suit asks a judge to order the nation’s largest police department to stop its surveillance and destroy any related records. It’s the third significant legal action filed against the NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program since details of the program were revealed in a series of Associated Press reports starting in 2011.
The lawsuit said Muslim religious leaders in New York have modified their sermons and other behavior so as not to draw additional police attention. The suit was filed against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, police commissioner Raymond Kelly and the deputy commissioner of intelligence, David Cohen.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a phone call and email asking for comment.
New York City’s law department said police intelligence-gathering tactics in Muslim communities is legal and critical to combating terrorism.
The lawsuit is the latest legal challenge to the activities of the NYPD Intelligence Division. A year ago, the California-based civil rights organization Muslim Advocates sued the NYPD over its counterterrorism programs. This year, civil rights lawyers urged a judge to stop the NYPD from routinely observing Muslims in restaurants, bookstores and mosques, saying the practice violates a landmark 1985 court settlement that restricted the kind of surveillance used against war protesters in the 1960s and ’70s.
The lawsuit describes a pattern of NYPD spying directed at Muslims in New York since the 2001 terrorist attacks.