Georgia GOP candidate Jody Hice: Muslims not protected by the First Amendment

June 23, 2014

A Republican candidate seeking to represent Georgia’s 10th U.S. House district believes that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty does not apply to followers of Islam.

“Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology,” Rev. Jody Hice wrote in his 2012 book It’s Now Or Never, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”

The House candidate also believes the Muslim Brotherhood is secretly infiltrating the United States in a plot to impose Sharia law on the entire country, a conspiracy theory he shares with Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX).

“Most people think Islam is a religion, it’s not. It’s a totalitarian way of life with a religious component. But it’s much larger. It’s a geo-political system that has governmental, financial, military, legal and religious components. And it’s a totalitarian system that encompasses every aspect of life and it should not be protected (under U.S. law),” he told members of the Coweta County Tea Party Patriots in 2011, according to The Citizen.

“This is not a tolerant, peaceful religion even though some Muslims are peaceful. Radical Muslims believe that Sharia is required by God and must be imposed worldwide. It’s a movement to take over the world by force. A global caliphate is the objective,” he added.

Supreme Court upholds legislative prayer in Town of Greece v. Galloway

This morning the Supreme Court held in Town of Greece v. Galloway, that the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It was a 5-4 decision, split along traditional right-left lines, though there is not a clear majority opinion.

Justice Kennedy wrote for the Court, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Alito in full and Justices Scalia and Thomas in part.  Scalia and Thomas refused to join part Part II-B of Kennedy’s opinion, which concluded that a “fact-intensive” inquiry of the specific practice at issue in this case did not unconstitutionally coerce individuals to engage in religious observance. Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Scalia. Justice Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, joined by Justice Scalia in part. On the other side, Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion for himself, and Justice Kagan wrote a dissent joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor.

Justice Kennedy’s decision appears to rest squarely on the Court’s decision in Marsh v. Chambers, which upheld the state of Nebraska’s practice of opening legislative sessions with a state-appointed chaplain.  Although the practice might appear to constitute an establishment of religion under the Lemon test, the Court in Marsh noted that such legislative prayers date back to the First Continental Congress and concluded that such a well-established tradition could not violate the Establishment Clause.   Thus unless the Court were willing to overturn Marsh, the only way to invalidate the prayer at issue here would be to conclude that it was more sectarian or more coercive.

Justice Kagan, writing for the four dissenters, sought to distinguish the prayers at issue here from those upheld in Marsh.  Her dissent begins:

For centuries now, people have come to this country from every corner of the world to share in the blessing of religious freedom. Our Constitution promises that they may worship in their own way, without fear of penalty or danger, and that in itself is a momentous offering. Yet our Constitution makes a commitment still more remarkable— that however those individuals worship, they will countas full and equal American citizens. A Christian, a Jew, a Muslim (and so forth)—each stands in the same relationship with her country, with her state and local communities, and with every level and body of government. So that when each person performs the duties or seeks the benefits of citizenship, she does so not as an adherent to one or another religion, but simply as an American.

Alabama’s chief justice: Buddha didn’t create us so First Amendment only protects Christians

Speaking at the Pastor for Life Luncheon, which was sponsored by Pro-Life Mississippi, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment only applies to Christians because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures” who created us.

“They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship,” he remarked January 17 at the event in Jackson, Mississippi. “Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”

He then noted that he loves talking to lawyers, because he is a lawyer who went to “a secular law school,” so he knows that “in the law, [talking about God] just isn’t politically correct.” He claimed that this is why America has “lost its way,” and that he would be publishing a pamphlet “this week, maybe next” that contained copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, thereby proving that all the people “who found this nation — black, white, all people, all religions, all faiths” knew that America was “about God.”

He later said the “pursuit of happiness” meant following God’s law, because “you can’t be happy unless you follow God’s law, and if you follow God’s law, you can’t help but be happy.”

“It’s all about God,” he continued. “We’ve made ‘life’ a decision taken by man,” he said, and “taken ‘liberty,’ and converted it to ‘licentiousness. We’ve taken ‘pursuit of happiness,’ and reduced it to materialism.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on Alabama’s governor and attorney general to reaffirm the constitutional rights of all that state’s citizens after video surfaced in which Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court seemed to claim that the First Amendment only applies to Christians because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us.” Justice Moore went on to state: “They didn’t bring the Koran [Islam’s revealed text] over on the pilgrim ship.”

How Tarek Mehanna Went to Prison for a Thought Crime

December 31, 2014

By Amna Akbar

 

As the government embraces a “counter-radicalization” approach to counterterrorism, prosecutors are turning radical beliefs into criminal acts.

Since 9/11, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more than 500 terrorism cases, yet there remains scant public understanding of what these federal cases have actually looked like and the impact they have had on communities and families. Published by The Nation in collaboration with Educators for Civil Liberties, the America After 9/11 series features contributions from scholars, researchers and advocates to provide a systematic look at the patterns of civil rights abuses in the United States’ domestic “war on terror.”

From mosques to Muslim Student Association offices, American Muslim community spaces have been emptied of their politics, leeched of their dynamism as centers for religious and political debate. This new normal is the result of ten years of post-9/11 scrutiny combined with our government’s more recent embrace of “counter-radicalization” and “countering violent extremism” programs, which subject Muslim communities’ religious and political practices to aggressive surveillance, regulation and criminalization.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department helped seed radicalization theory, giving rise to an elaborate lattice of counterterrorism practices that touch on all aspects of Muslim life. From the NYPD’s infamous Demographics Unit, which created maps of Muslim communities in New York and New Jersey, to the FBI’s aggressive use of informants in mosques and community institutions, to the White House’s push for community engagement with Muslims, and the Department of Justice’s increasing emphasis on prosecuting speech activity, counter-radicalization and countering violent extremism, these policies have warped the basic currents of Muslim experience, turning them into threat indicators for the nation’s security.

Governments, including our own, laud these programs as soft counterterrorism measures. But this framing misses the shadowy side of these all-encompassing programs: the way counter-radicalization distends the government’s reach into the sacred and vulnerable turf of difference, debate, and democracy.

The rise of counter-radicalization and fall of the First Amendment

In recent years, journalists, advocates and Muslim community activists have helped expose part of the raw underbelly of the government’s counter-radicalization and countering violent extremism programs. But one area that has gone largely unexplored is the Justice Department’s growing embrace of a counter-radicalization ethos to prosecute national security cases. In framing expressions of political and religious belief as precursors to, and even evidence of, terrorism, these cases represent some of the most dramatic and alarming challenges in decades to the First Amendment’s core protections of free speech and freedom of religion.

The government’s prosecution of Tarek Mehanna is not the only case where prosecutors focused on speech the government finds unsavory. Zachary Chesser and Jesse Morton were two Muslim converts—Chesser in his early 20s from Virginia, and Morton in his early 30s from Brooklyn—charged in 2010 and 2012 with material support, conspiracy, and Internet-use-related charges, for posts to RevolutionMuslim.com and other Muslim-run websites; the government was centrally concerned with web ranting against South Park’s depiction of Muhammad. In 2011, Jubair Ahmad, a 24-year-old Pakistani-born US legal permanent resident living in Virginia, was charged with material support for preparing a video containing a prayer in support of jihad on behalf of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a South Asia–based designated terrorist organization.

 

The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/177750/how-tarek-mehanna-went-prison-thought-crime#

Sympathy for the Devil Worshipers

November 6, 2013

 

It’s easy enough to be in favor of a “nonsectarian” prayer before a legislative session — some invocation of a higher power that theoretically doesn’t exclude anyone (besides atheists, that is) — but what exactly does such a prayer sound like?

That was Justice Samuel Alito’s question during oral arguments at the Supreme Court Wednesday morning in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, and it got to the heart of the court’s basic discomfort with cases asking it to decide whether specific government-sponsored prayers cross the constitutional line and “establish” religion in violation of the First Amendment.

In Greece, a town of just under 100,000 in western New York, town officials invite local clergy to offer a prayer before monthly town board meetings. The prayers may technically be given by anyone, but for nine years they were exclusively Christian, many using language such as “in the name of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.” Two residents sued the town under the First Amendment.

Standing before the court, the residents’ lawyer, Douglas Laycock, suggested that a nonsectarian prayer would be satisfactory. Justice Alito wasn’t so sure.

“How could you do it?” Justice Alito asked. “Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus … Wiccans, Baha’i.”

“And atheists,” Justice Antonin Scalia added. “Throw in atheists, too.”

And so it went, the justices trying in vain to determine what sort of prayer, if any, would be sufficiently nonsectarian, and who should be responsible for making that determination. None of them seemed to relish the idea of playing at prayer editor.

As the argument progressed it was increasingly difficult to discern any grounds on which to justify legislative prayer other than the fact that it’s something we’ve always done — which was the basis for the court’s ruling upholding such a prayer in the Nebraska legislature in 1983, when it last considered the question.

 

New York Times: http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/06/sympathy-for-the-devil-worshippers/

Nashville rabbi offers Murfreesboro mosque trip on Yom Kippur

The rabbi of Nashville’s largest and longest-practicing synagogue used the most holy night of the Jewish year to invite his congregation on an unusual trip.

Going to the beleaguered mosque in Murfreesboro, he told them Friday, is part of Yom Kippur’s call to introspection.

“It’s the day that we look into our most honest selves and we have to wrestle with ourselves — not just to do what is the easy or comfortabl thing — but that which is courageous and filled with strength of conscience,” said Rabbi Mark Schiftan of The Temple-Congregation Ohabai Sholom.

The congregation will load up on buses Oct. 27 and travel to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro for food and conversation, Schiftan said Saturday. While Jews and Muslims are often in conflict overseas, they’re both religious minorities in the U.S. The meeting gives both congregations the opportunity to ask questions and affirm their appreciation of the First Amendment right to practice their religions.

While Muslims have been meeting in Murfreesboro for decades, their newly opened mosque faced a number of tribulations, from burning of equipment on the construction site to a legal effort to prevent the building’s use.

Murfreesboro mosque leader says enough’s enough: Foes of the center in Murfreesboro file request to appeal

MURFREESBORO — An Islamic Center of Murfreesboro leader Tuesday questioned why plaintiffs opposed to government approval of mosque construction continue to appeal their case.

“We have already wasted enough energy and money on this issue,” said Saleh Sbenaty, a board member with the ICM and a 20-year professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “We have been here for over 30 years. This is our home. We are productive members of our community. We have no other place to go.”

The plaintiffs hope the state’s top court will overrule a Tennessee Appeals Court decision in late May that supported the way the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission approved plans for the ICM to construct a mosque on Veals Road, off Bradyville Pike.

Federal court intervenes

A federal court in Nashville intervened at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice and the ICM in July 2012 and determined that the local case violated the congregation’s First Amendment religious freedom and land-use rights. The federal court ruling allowed the congregation to move into its new mosque in August 2012, before the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time when Muslims are to fast during the day, worship at night, seek forgiveness and treat others well.

NY Times Op Ed: More Overreach by the N.Y.P.D.

The revelation in 2011 that the New York City Police Department was spying on law-abiding Muslims rightly attracted scrutiny from the Justice Department, which announced last year that it intended to review the program. The disclosure also raised troubling questions about whether the city was violating a federal court order that bars it from retaining information gleaned from investigations of political activity unless there are reasonable indications of potential wrongdoing. The purpose of that order was to discourage unjustified surveillance and prevent police from peering into people’s private affairs and building dossiers on them without legitimate cause.

Now comes a new federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Muslim citizens and organizations saying they have been subjected to illegal surveillance that has disrupted Muslim houses of worship, made it difficult for congregants and their spiritual leaders to worship freely, and inhibited Muslims from openly associating with lawful Muslim charities and civic groups and exercising First Amendment rights.

One striking case in the complaint involves Masjid At-Taqwa, a mosque in Brooklyn, where the Police Department is alleged to have installed a surveillance camera, clearly marked with the department’s insignia and pointed at the mosque door. This seems curious because the mosque’s longtime leader, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, was said in the complaint to be a clergy liaison for the N.Y.P.D. Community Affairs Bureau and a member of the Majlis Ash-Shura, also known as the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York.

 

Somali American caught up in a shadowy Pentagon counterpropaganda campaign

In MINNEAPOLIS — Two days after he became a U.S. citizen, Abdiwali Warsame embraced the First Amendment by creating a raucous Web site about his native Somalia. Packed with news and controversial opinions, it rapidly became a magnet for Somalis dispersed around the world, including tens of thousands in Minnesota.

The popularity of the site, Somalimidnimo.com, or United Somalia, also attracted the attention of the Defense Department. A military contractor, working for U.S. Special Operations forces to “counter nefarious influences” in Africa, began monitoring the Web site and compiled a confidential research dossier about its founder and its content.

In a May 2012 report, the contractor, the Northern Virginia-based Navanti Group, branded the Web site “extremist” and asserted that its “chief goal is to disseminate propaganda supportive” of al-Shabab, an Islamist militia in Somalia that the U.S. government considers a terrorist group. The contractor then delivered a copy of its dossier — including Warsame’s Minnesota home address and phone number — to the FBI. A few days later, federal agents knocked on the webmaster’s door.

Although he did not know it, Warsame had been caught up in a shadowy Defense Department counterpropaganda operation, according to public records and interviews.

 

Supreme Court rejects taxpayer challenge to AIG bailout AIG bailout

(Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by a taxpayer who claimed the government’s 2008 bailout of the insurer American International Group Inc violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

Without comment, the court let stand a June 1 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that Kevin Murray lacked standing to challenge the $182.3 billion bailout, including its use of taxpayer funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”).

The bailout left the government with a controlling stake in New York-based AIG, which it has since reduced.

Murray, a Michigan resident and Marine veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said the bailout violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause because AIG has units that market and sell financing products compliant with Sharia, Islamic law based on teachings of the Koran.

He contended that the sale of such products was a basis for a “global jihadist war against the West and the United States,” and sent a message that non-adherents to Islam were outsiders.

But the 6th Circuit said nothing in the law authorizing TARP suggested that Congress knew or intended that TARP funds might support the sale of the Sharia-compliant products.