Judge rejects inmate’s suit seeking cleric from Muslim sect

SCRANTON, Pa. — A federal judge had dismissed a former inmate’s religious freedom lawsuit against a Pennsylvania jail, saying he had no right to a cleric from the specific Muslim sect he preferred–the Nation of Islam.

Courts have ruled inmates have a right to practice their religious, but that right isn’t unlimited and must be balanced against the jail’s ability to run safely and efficiently.  In this case, the judge agreed with an attorney for the jail who argued that the jail did offer Muslim services and religious items but the inmate didn’t participate because the cleric wasn’t affiliated with the Nation of Islam.

Department of Homeland Security halts enforcement of controversial travel ban

The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday, February 4, 2017, that it had suspended “any and all actions” related to President Trump’s travel ban on immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries, as well as its temporary halt on refugee resettlements.

The move came after a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order against the major parts of Trump’s executive order, effective nationwide, in response to a lawsuit filed by the states of Washington and Minnesota.

The State Department, which “provisionally revoked” 60,000 visas since the president signed his executive order on Jan. 27, said Saturday it had started re-accepting those visas from people in the countries affected.

Trump’s White House has said it will ask for an emergency stay of the judge’s order, arguing the president’s actions were lawful.

Ankara’s long arm? German DİTİB branch embroiled in a spying affair targeting Gülenists

A deteriorating relationship

In recent months, the relationship between German authorities and DİTİB, the country’s largest and Turkish-dominated Muslim association, has taken a severe drubbing.

For close to three decades, DİTİB used to be the German government’s preferred cooperation partner in Islamic religious affairs: outsourcing the religious needs of the country’s Muslim population to DİTİB, a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), was a convenient way to ensure that a quietist albeit conservative Islamicality was propagated in DİTİB’s 1,000 mosques in Germany.

Yet especially since the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, DİTİB has fallen out of favour. As diplomatic relations between Germany and the Erdoğan government have soured, German politicians have been accusing DİTİB of being a pawn of the Turkish government. As a result, calls have been voiced demanding an end to the cooperation with DİTİB in areas such as Islamic religious education for Muslim youth attending public schools.

DİTİB’s role in the anti-Gülenist crackdown

DİTİB’s German critics have now received ample new ammunition in their fight. The press has analysed DİTİB’s bylaws, pointing to the extensive prerogatives enjoyed by Turkish government representatives, especially with regards to personnel choices.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/satzung-des-islamverbands-ditib-tuerkische-funktionaere.886.de.html?dram:article_id=375487 ))

Even more momentously, however, DİTİB has been embroiled in a spying affair targeting suspected sympathisers of the Gülenist hizmet movement. The Turkish government holds the Gülen responsible for orchestrating July’s coup attempt. Some of DİTİB’s Imams have apparently followed an order by Diyanet to gather information on Gülen supporters in their localities, passing on their findings to Turkish authorities.

DİTİB had already been scrutinised for its role in anti-Gülenist agitation in the immediate aftermath of the attempted putsch. Back then, flyers defaming Gülenists as “traitors of the fatherland” had been put up in a DİTİB mosque. At the time, the backlash faced by DİTİB prompted the association to vow greater independence from the Turkish government.

Reports sent back to Ankara

Such independence, however, appears difficult to attain for DİTİB. In September 2016, Diyanet “urgently requested” Turkish consulates abroad to collect information on the Gülen organisation and its schools, housing units, NGOs, or cultural associations.

Some of DİTİB’s Imams appear to have followed up on these orders: at least three clerics from Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Lower Saxony compiled reports on suspected Gülenist activities in their regions and sent them back to Ankara.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Basing himself on the content of these reports, Green Party politician Volker Beck has now filed a lawsuit against DİTİB with the Federal Prosecutor, accusing DİTİB of having illegally spied on supposed Gülenists living in Germany.

DİTİB’s shifting reaction to the allegations

DİTİB initially denied the spying accusations as “remote from reality” and as the product of a “manipulative and untrue” anti-DİTİB campaign.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/15/ditib-imame-unter-verdacht/ )) Subsequently, however, the secretary general of DİTİB in Germany, Bekir Alboğa, conceded that some DİTİB Imams had collected and passed on information.

Alboğa stressed, however, that this was not a systematic policy but the result of the “misguided” action of a few Imams only. He asserted that DİTİB “deeply regrets this mishap”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/ditib-bedauert-spitzel-affaere-aid-1.6528628 ))

In a follow-up statement on DİTİB’s website, Alboğa then denied that his statements constituted an admission of “spying”. He asserted that his organisation was “continuing to strive for a transparent resolution” of the case.(( http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=560&lang=de ))

Defending DİTİB

Other voices from the Muslim and Turkish community have also commented these developments. When the spying accusations were first made public in December 2016, the secretary general of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, came to DİTİB’s defence, asserting that DİTİB’s Imams “deserved respect and recognition”.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/15/ditib-imame-unter-verdacht/ ))

The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), Gökay Sofuoğlu, demanded that potential spying activities be investigated. Yet he also asserted that DİTİB was made up of “many people and a large number of officials” seeking to change the organisation’s structures for the better. Not all of them ought to be tarred with the same brush, or so Sofuoğlu asserted.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Political ramifications

The Federal Prosecutor himself has been slow to act upon the lawsuit brought against DİTİB. This has sparked the anger of Beck and others, who accuse the Prosecutor of pandering to political interests.

In their view, delaying investigations into DİTİB’s activities might be a means to prevent further damage to German-Turkish relations – relations particularly salient in a context where German politicians depend on President Erdoğan for sealing the border to Europe in order to stem the flow migrants.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Indeed, political decision-makers themselves have not dramatically altered their stance vis-à-vis DİTİB. The North-Rhine Westphalian (NRW) state government, for instance, long at the forefront of a more ambitious cooperation between German authorities and DİTİB, expressed its will to continue its work with DİTİB in spite of the spying affair.(( http://www.taz.de/Islamverband-entschuldigt-sich/!5371091/ ))

Erosion of legitimacy of Muslim associations

Nevertheless, even the NRW government announced the formation of a commission of inquiry into DİTİB’s linkages with the Turkish state. And NRW’s Minister President, Hannelore Kraft, also rejected DİTİB’s ambitions to be formally recognised as a religious community or a corporation of public law.(( http://www.taz.de/Islamverband-entschuldigt-sich/!5371091/ ))

Many Christian churches as well as other religious bodies are holders of these formal legal titles, which confer a host of financial, social, and political benefits set to facilitate the religious life of these communities.

Despite being the country’s second-largest faith group, Muslims have so far not been able to obtain such recognition, with the exception of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in the state of Hesse. DİTİB’s embroilment in the anti-Gülenist spying affair further erodes the legitimacy of Germany’s Islamic associations and thus hampers the ability of German Muslims to attain legal parity within the country’s legal framework.

Judge Rejects Settlement Over Surveillance of Muslims by New York Police Department

A federal judge has rejected the settlement of a lawsuit stemming from the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims, saying the proposed deal does not provide enough oversight of an agency that he said had shown a “systemic inclination” to ignore rules protecting free speech and religion.

In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, agreed to appoint a civilian lawyer to monitor the department’s counterterrorism activities as a means of settling two lawsuits accusing the city of violating the rights of Muslims over the past decade.

But the judge, Charles S. Haight Jr., in an opinion published on Monday, said the settlement did not go far enough for an agency that had become “accustomed to disregarding” court orders.

“The proposed role and powers of the civilian representative,” Judge Haight wrote, “do not furnish sufficient protection from potential violations of the constitutional rights of those law-abiding Muslims and believers in Islam who live, move and have their being in this city.”

Judge Rejects Settlement Over Surveillance of Muslims by New York Police Department

A federal judge has rejected the settlement of a lawsuit stemming from the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims, saying the proposed deal does not provide enough oversight of an agency that he said had shown a “systemic inclination” to ignore rules protecting free speech and religion.

In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, agreed to appoint a civilian lawyer to monitor the department’s counterterrorism activities as a means of settling two lawsuits accusing the city of violating the rights of Muslims over the past decade.

But the judge, Charles S. Haight Jr., in an opinion published on Monday, said the settlement did not go far enough for an agency that had become “accustomed to disregarding” court orders.

“The proposed role and powers of the civilian representative,” Judge Haight wrote, “do not furnish sufficient protection from potential violations of the constitutional rights of those law-abiding Muslims and believers in Islam who live, move and have their being in this city.”

Muslim women kicked out of US cafe accused of ‘civilizational jihad’ by lawyer

Soondus Ahmed and other plantiffs and attorneys representing the women hold a press conference in Laguna Beach. A group of Muslim women who claim in a lawsuit they were kicked out of a California restaurant for wearing headscarfs have been accused of “civilizational jihad” by a lawyer for the restaurant, which has launched a countersuit.

The seven women, six of whom were wearing hijabs, were kicked out of Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach in April.

They claim that they were targeted for ejection because of their hijabs, though the cafe denies that, claiming that they were violating a policy which limited seating time to 45 minutes, and have also claimed that there were other women wearing headscarves present who were not thrown out.

David Yerushalmi, the lawyer representing Urth Caffe, said that one of the owners of the cafe, Jilla Berkman, is also a Muslim.

He said that the discrimination suit was “an extortion”, called the women’s lawyers “ambulance-chasers”, and said that he planned to bring a suit against both the plaintiffs and their legal team for malicious prosecution. The countersuit that he has brought in this case, however, is for trespassing.

Yerushalmi is a controversial figure, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit advocacy group which collates information on hate groups and extremists, as an “anti-Muslim activist who is a leading proponent of the idea that the United States is threatened by the imposition of Muslim religious law, known as Shariah”.

“Ideally, he would outlaw Islam and deport its adherents altogether,” the SPLC’s profile of Yerushalmi adds.

Asked about the SPLC’s characterization of him, Yerushalmi said that he “represents a lot of Muslims”.

“I represent Muslim Americans, running from jihad and seeking asylum. If you want to say I’m an anti-jihad lawyer, you’re 100% right,” he continued. “Am I anti-Sharia? Yes, I am. Am I anti-Muslim? Not if he doesn’t have a gun in his hand shooting at me.”

Yerushalmi alleged that the suit against Urth Caffe was part of a wider “civilizational jihad” waged by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which aims, he said, “to weaken western civilization”.

“Urth Caffe has decided to hire a lawyer who has made a career out of crusading against Muslims in America,” said Mohammad Tajsar, a lawyer representing the seven women. “Their decision to hire this particular gentleman frankly makes our case. It demonstrates that this organization has no regard for the very Muslim clientele that it claims it caters to.”

Tajsar said he was “dumbstruck” by the allegations made by Yerushalmi, and also noted that the legal filing – the countersuit for trespass – doesn’t attempt to legally assert the claims of abuse of lawsuit that Yerushalmi has made publicly against him and his clients.

“They haven’t countersued for abuse of process,” Tajsar said. “They have alleged abuse of process, but not filed for that, and the reason why is that it would be incorrect and patently frivolous. There’s a lot of bluster and attempts to paint our clients as politically-motivated without any basis in fact.”

Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Los Angeles branch of CAIR, said that, contrary to Yerushalmi’s allegations, his organization was not involved with the case against Urth Caffe.

“I’m not privy to the details of the case, of their claim, and I would hope that a fair trial would allow us to know what happened,” he said. “But if anyone had any doubts about what happened on that day, those doubts are eliminated by the fact that the owners of Urth Caffe decided to retain David Yerushalmi.”

“There are 1.2 million attorneys in America, and for them to choose the most hateful, the most bigoted attorney, tells a lot about the values that Urth Caffe’s owners hold,” he added.

Could a Muslim Judge Be Neutral to Donald Trump? He Doesn’t Think So

Donald J. Trump said Sunday that a Muslim judge might have trouble remaining neutral in a lawsuit against him, extending his race-based criticism of the jurist overseeing the case to include religion and opening another path for Democrats who have criticized him sharply for his remarks.
The comments, in an interview with John Dickerson, the host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” come amid growing disapproval from fellow Republicans over his attacks on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, a federal judge in California overseeing a suit against the defunct Trump University, whose impartiality Mr. Trump questioned based on the judge’s Mexican heritage.
Mr. Dickerson asked Mr. Trump if, in his view, a Muslim judge would be similarly biased because of the Republican presumptive nominee’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants. “It’s possible, yes,” Mr. Trump said. “Yeah. That would be possible. Absolutely.”

Lawsuit claims Muslims including a 4-year-old are unfairly on terrorist watch list

A lawsuit filed last week claims that thousands of Muslim Americans, among them a 4-year old, have been unfairly put on a federal watch list designed to screen potential terrorists.

The class-action complaint criticizes the Terrorist Screening Database, a list of about 1.5 million people overseen by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. It’s one of several lawsuits that have been filed in recent years challenging the list, saying that it’s unconstitutional in how it’s compiled and used.

The lawsuit was filed by the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic two Michigan lawyers and an attorney in Washington against the FBI center and other federal agencies. More than half the 18 plaintiffs listed in the complaint live in southeastern Michigan.

“Our federal government is imposing an injustice of historic proportions upon … thousands,” says the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is where the list is compiled. “Through extra-judicial and secret means, the federal government is ensnaring individuals. … The secret federal watch list is the product of bigotry and misguided, counterproductive zeal.”

In addition to being unable to fly in some cases, Muslims are being jailed, interrogated and threatened by federal agents, the lawsuit alleges. In other cases, FBI agents pressure people on the list to become informants if they want to get off the list, the complaint says. Another problem is the lack of redress, with many Muslims unable to get off the list and unsure how they got on it, plaintiffs said.

The Terrorist Screening Center was established in 2003 by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Since then, the “watch list has swelled,” with more than 1.5 million nominations to the watch list submitted by federal agencies since 2009, 99 percent of which have been approved, said the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said such a list is too broad, targeting Muslims because of their faith, and ends up being ineffective in protecting the U.S.

“The federal watch list diminishes, rather than enhances, our national security because the number of innocent Americans on the list is becoming so voluminous that the purpose of having a list is significantly undermined as all are being treated as the same,” says the complaint.

A spokesman for the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, Dave Joly, said it couldn’t comment on pending litigation, and can’t comment on who’s on the list. On its website, the FBI defended the list, saying it doesn’t target people solely because of their religion or ethnicity.

“Generally, individuals are included in the Terrorist Screening Database when there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or suspected terrorist,” says the Terrorist Screening Center. “Individuals must not be watch-listed based solely on race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, or First Amendment-protected activities such as free speech, the exercise or religion, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government for redress of grievances.”

Plaintiffs said they often see a “SSSS” designation on their boarding passes, which signifies to the airlines and federal officials they are suspected terrorists. The designation is shared with state and local agencies, making it difficult for the plaintiffs in other areas of life, such as interactions with local police, said the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says many are either placed on what’s called a Selectee List, which subjects them to extra scrutiny, or the more stringent No-Fly List, which prevents the traveler from flying.

One of the plaintiffs is a 4-year-old boy from California, listed in the lawsuit as “Baby Doe.”

“He was 7 months old when his boarding pass was first stamped with the ‘SSSS’ designation, indicating that he had been designated as a ‘known or suspected terrorist,'” said the lawsuit. “While passing through airport security, he was subjected to extensive searches, pat-downs and chemical testing.”

“Every item in his mother’s baby bag was searched, including every one of his diapers.”

Another plaintiff, Anas Elhady, 22, of Dearborn, Mich., said he “is routinely referred to secondary inspection, handcuffed and detained by CBP (Customs and Border Protection) at land border crossings when he attempts to re-enter the United States from Canada.”

“CBP officers routinely subject him to a prolonged detention and questioning for approximately four to twelve hours each time. Moreover, he is routinely asked questions about his religious beliefs and practices, what sect of Islam he belongs to, what mosque he prays in, among other things.”

Elhady said he filed a request with the agency to get off the list, but the problems persisted.

In 2015, as he was trying to cross back into Detroit over the Ambassador Bridge after a vacation in Canada, he was thrown into a “small, freezing cold holding cell with bright lights” without his jacket and shoes, said the lawsuit.

“After several hours, Mr. Elhady knocked on the door repeatedly and begged for someone to help him. His pleas for help were ignored. Afterward, his body began shaking uncontrollably and he fell unconscious.”

Elhady said he was then taken to a hospital. Later, on Dec. 2, an FBI agent contacted “Elhady and informed him that his phone was being tapped and that all his calls were being listened to by the FBI,” reads the complaint.

“Elhady’s boarding pass continues to be stamped with the ‘SSSS’ designation when (he) travels by air, indicating that he has been designated as a ‘known or suspected terrorist.'”

Akeel, the Troy attorney helped file the lawsuit, said: “Americans young and old are being placed on the list without proper accountability. There is a swelling group of second-class American citizens being formed here at an alarming rate.”

Bloomberg: “Muslim Groups Seek To Revive New York Police Surveillance Suit”

Sophia Pearson for Bloomberg: “Muslim groups seeking to revive a lawsuit over a New York City Police Department surveillance program of mosques and businesses faced tough questions from appeals judges about terrorism and skepticism from an attorney for the city about the program’s very existence.

Several Muslims sued New York in June 2012 in Newark, New Jersey, federal court claiming police singled them out for their religious beliefs. The plaintiffs included a U.S. soldier and a teacher at a Muslim school for girls. Both said their career prospects would be hindered as a result of the spying.”

Nursing home refused to allow Muslim worker to wear hijab, government lawsuit alleges

July 9, 2014

Nursing Home Prohibited Religious Headwear and Fired Worker in Retaliation Federal Agency Charges

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A Jasper, Ala., nursing home violated federal law when it refused to allow a Muslim employee to wear a hijab (the traditional covering for the hair and neck that is worn by Muslim women) on the job, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed June 30.  EEOC v. Shadescrest Health Care Center, ND Ala. Case 6:14-cv-01253-SLB (June 30, 2014).  The agency also contends that Shadescrest fired the employee in retaliation for filing a complaint with the EEOC.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, in August 2012, Tracy Martin, a Muslim woman, was hired as a certified nursing assistant by Shadescrest Healthcare Center.  On or about Aug. 9, 2012, Martin reported to work wearing a hijab, in accord with her sincerely held religious beliefs.  According to the EEOC, Shadescrest refused Martin’s request to wear the hijab, despite its religious significance, and instead, told her to remove the head covering or be subject to termination.  Subsequently, Martin filed a charge with the EEOC complaining that Shadescrest refused to accommodate her religious beliefs.  Weeks after Shadescrest received notice of Martin’s charge of discrimination, Martin was summarily fired.  According to the EEOC, Martin was fired in retaliation for her complaint to the EEOC and on account of her attempt to exercise her rights under Title VII’s religious accommodation provision.

“Businesses, like Shadescrest, must respect the religious practices of their employees and, when practical, accommodate those practices,” said EEOC Birmingham District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas. “The EEOC will continue to target policies and practices that discourage or prohibit people from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts.