Lawsuit Contends Surveillance Database Is Too Lax on Reporting Criteria

July 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — Intent on not overlooking clues about any terrorist plots after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government spread a now-familiar slogan: “If you see something, say something.” Less visibly, it built a national database to better harness reports of suspicious activity in the hunt for terrorists.

On Thursday, five California men opened a legal front over the recurring tensions between collective security measures and individual rights by filing a lawsuit that challenges the Suspicious Activity Reporting database. They contend that it is too easy for people engaged in innocuous activities to be put into the database and scrutinized as if they were a threat.

The plaintiffs include two white photographers who were confronted by security guards at a natural gas tank and by the police at a refinery; an Egyptian-American who tried to buy a large number of computers at a Best Buy store; a Pakistani-American who was looking around in a train station with his mother, who wore a Muslim head scarf; and a white Muslim convert who was looking at a flight simulator game on the Internet.

Each contends that he was added to the database for his behavior, although only two, according to previously disclosed government documents, have been able to prove it. The lawsuit argues that federal standards are too lax in allowing a security guard’s or a police officer’s report to be uploaded into the national database.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco. The suit was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, working with lawyers for the law firm Bingham McCutchen.

The lawsuit also contends that the system can lend itself to racial profiling. It points to reports involving plaintiffs like Khaled Ibrahim, an American citizen of Egyptian descent who lives in San Jose, Calif. The suit said that he worked as a purchasing agent for a computer consulting and service company and that “on several occasions” in 2011 tried to buy a large number of computers for the firm at a Best Buy store, which told him it did not sell computers in bulk.

Opponents Of Islamic Center Of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Have Case Declined By U.S. Supreme Court

June 4, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For years, opponents of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro vowed to take their legal fight to shut down the mosque all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That fight ended Monday (June 2), when the nation’s highest court declined to hear their case.

The four-year conflict over construction of the mosque, which opened in 2012, brought national attention to this Bible Belt city of 112,000 about 30 miles south of Nashville.

Hundreds marched in protest after Rutherford County officials approved plans for the mosque in 2010. Televangelist Pat Robertson labeled the Islamic center a “mega mosque” and claimed Muslims were taking over Murfreesboro. An arsonist set fire to construction equipment on the building site.

Mosque opponents eventually filed a suit against Rutherford County, seeking to block construction of the worship space.

On the surface, the fight was over the minutiae of Tennessee’s sunshine, or public notice, laws. Mosque foes claimed local officials failed to give adequate notice of a meeting where plans for the mosque’s construction were approved.

But a thriving anti-Muslim movement in Tennessee fueled the fight. Mosque foes asserted that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom did not apply to the mosque. In court, Joe Brandon Jr., a lawyer for mosque foes, said Islam is not a religion, and he argued that the mosque was a threat to the community.

Initially, a local judge ruled for the mosque foes and ordered a halt to mosque construction. But a federal court quickly overruled that decision, paving the way for the mosque to open in 2012. A state appeals court also later overturned the lower court decision.

Local Muslims, many of whom had worshipped in the community for years, found themselves having to defend their faith and their status as American citizens at the trial.

Members of the Islamic Center found help in local interfaith groups and other local leaders who rallied to their assistance. More than 100 local religious leaders signed a letter supporting the mosque.

Foes of the mosque haven’t given up yet. A group of plaintiffs recently filed suit to block local Muslims from building a cemetery on the mosque grounds.

According to the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, a ruling on the cemetery lawsuit is expected in mid-June.

State of Oklahoma owes $303,333 in plaintiffs’ legal fees over Sharia law case

May 19, 2014

Oklahoma will have to pay $303,333 in legal fees to plaintiffs’ attorneys who brought lawsuit against Sharia law ballot measure

The bill has come due for the state’s effort to keep international law and Sharia law out of Oklahoma courts.

It wasn’t cheap.

Oklahoma must pay $303,333 for attorneys’ fees of the plaintiffs who challenged a measure approved overwhelmingly by voters on Nov. 2, 2010, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange ruled May 14.

The Oklahoma Legislature put the measure on the ballot.

Miles-LaGrange found it an unconstitutional infringement on individual rights.

Plaintiff Muneer Awad, an Oklahoma City Muslim man, said in the lawsuit that the measure would stigmatize him and others of his faith, limit the results they can receive in court and prevent his will from being probated in Oklahoma because his will references Sharia law, the Islamic law system.

On May 14, Miles-LaGrange approved a plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees, costs and nontaxable expenses.

Micheal Salem, of Norman, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said there has never been any indication that Sharia law was being applied in Oklahoma courts in the first place.

“It created a solution where there was no problem that existed,” Salem said. He also said there are adequate constitutional protections that would prohibit court decisions grounded in religious theory.

The FBI Is Trying To Recruit Muslims As Snitches By Putting Them On No-Fly Lists

April 22, 2014

 

Awais Sajjad, a lawful permanent U.S. resident living in the New York area, learned he was on the no-fly list in September 2012 after he tried to board a flight to Pakistan at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was turned back.

At the airport, FBI agents questioned Sajjad, a Muslim, before releasing him. But they later returned with an offer. In exchange for working for them, the FBI could provide him with U.S. citizenship and compensation. The FBI, the agents reminded Sajjad, also had the power to decide who was on the no-fly list.

When he refused, the FBI agents “kept him on the list in order to pressure and coerce Mr. Sajjad to sacrifice his constitutionally-protected rights,” according to an amended lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in New York.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Sajjad and three other men, accuses the United States of violating their rights by placing or keeping them on the no-fly list after they declined to spy on local Muslim communities in New York, New Jersey and Nebraska.

“The no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants,” said Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York. “The practice borders on extortion.”

The Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project, which Kassem supervises, and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit on behalf of the men.

In the case of; Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, who is not a national security threat.

It took a lawsuit that has stretched for eight years for the feds to yield that admission. It is one answer in a case that opened up many more questions: How did an innocent Malaysian architectural scholar remain on a terrorism no fly-list—effectively branded a terrorist—for years after a FBI paperwork screw up put her there? The answer to that question, to paraphrase a particularly hawkish former Secretary of Defense, may be unknowable.

Last week, there was a depressing development in the case. A judge’s decision was made public and it revealed that the White House has created at least one “secret exception” to the legal standard that federal authorities use to place people on such lists. This should trouble anyone who cares about niggling things like legal due process or the US Constitution. No one is clear what the exception is, because it’s secret—duh—meaning government is basically placing people on terror watchlists that can ruin their lives without explaining why or how they landed on those lists in the first place.

Ibrahim’s attorney, Elizabeth Pipkin, said she can’t say for sure how the authorities first became interested in her client. “That was speculation on our part,” she said. “The sad thing is, even after eight years of litigation, we weren’t able to get to the bottom of what was the underlying information that lead an FBI agent to her door and brought this whole thing about.”

But as great as a “Feds Suck at Googling” headline would be, it could be even more simple and ridiculous. According to one judge, an FBI agent made a basic paperwork error by filling out the form the opposite way from the instructions: ticking the lists she thought Ibrahim should not be on rather than the ones that she should. That screw up might be to blame for turning eight years of her life into a hellish pit of litigation.

In 2007, a Justice Department audit found that the “management of the watchlist continues to have weaknesses” and that the department needed “to further improve its efforts for ensuring the accuracy of the watchlist records.”

U.S. citizens have also been stranded abroad and never told why they couldn’t fly home. Yahye Wehelie, who was raised in Fairfax County, couldn’t leave Egypt for weeks in 2010; he was stopped in Cairo on his way to Yemen to find a wife.

In a previous interview with The Washington Post, Wehelie said FBI agents asked him if he was willing to inform on the Muslim community in his area when he got home.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/lawsuit-alleges-fbi-is-using-no-fly-list-to-force-muslims-to-become-informants/2014/04/22/1a62f566-ca27-11e3-a75e-463587891b57_story.html

Vice.com: http://www.vice.com/read/no-fly-list-rahinah-ibrahim-danny-mcdonald?utm_source=vicefbus

Gym faces lawsuit over Muslim head covering

March 20, 2014

 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A gym in Albuquerque refused to let a Muslim woman wear her religious head covering when she tried to work out, according to a new lawsuit against the company.

An attorney for Tarainia McDaniel, 37, recently filed the lawsuit in a New Mexico district court stemming from a 2011 clash at a Planet Fitness that prevented McDaniel from using the gym while wearing the head covering, even though court documents said another Planet Fitness in the area had previously let her do so, the Albuquerque Journal reports (http://goo.gl/lqi6Xj).

On Oct. 3, 2011, she was turned away at her new gym and was told the informal head covering didn’t meet its dress code, the lawsuit states. The gym had a sign that said “no jeans, work boots, bandanas, skull caps or revealing apparel.”

McDaniel said she asked to be allowed to wear the informal head covering to accommodate her Muslim faith, and she even asked if she should come back wearing a formal head covering known as the hijab, according to the lawsuit.

But the gym denied her requests, the lawsuit states.

Planet Fitness attorney Erika Anderson said the head covering violates the gym’s dress-code policy. “My client’s position is that they didn’t know the head covering was for religious purposes,” Anderson said.

McDaniel’s civil lawsuit, filed under the New Mexico Human Rights Act and the Unfair Practices Act, alleges that Planet Fitness illegally based the decision to deny her access upon her religion, or alternatively upon her race — she is African-American — and that the gym had no legitimate reason to deny her entry.

Planet Fitness, in its formal answer to the claims, denies violations of either the Human Rights Act or Unfair Practices Act. It says McDaniel failed to participate in good faith and that the company has legitimate business reasons for its practice as well as measures to prevent discrimination.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/gym-faces-lawsuit-over-muslim-head-covering/2014/03/20/755d6f7c-b074-11e3-b8b3-44b1d1cd4c1f_story.html

Civil rights groups appeal ruling allowing NYPD to spy on Muslims

March 21, 2014

 

(RNS) Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights on Friday (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.

Last month, 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 scared them from making charitable contributions to Muslim charities.

The lawsuit does not seek money for the plaintiffs, but 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.

 

RNS.com: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/03/21/civil-rights-groups-appeal-ruling-allowing-nypd-spy-muslims/

Judge rules in favor of Muslim woman on no-fly list

January 16, 2014

 

A Muslim woman now living in Malaysia struck a blow to the U.S. government’s “no-fly list” when a federal judge ruled Tuesday (Jan. 14) that the government violated her due process rights by putting her on the list without telling her why.

Muslims and civil rights advocates say the no-fly list disproportionately targets Muslims, and they hope the ruling will force the government to become more transparent about the highly secretive program.

The lawsuit, filed by San Jose-based McManis-Faulkner in 2006 on behalf of the mother of four children and PhD student at Stanford University, alleged that the government violated Dr. Ibrahim’s due process rights when it placed her on the “no-fly” list. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ruled that Ibrahim had standing to challenge the government’s actions, ordered the government to correct Ibrahim’s position on the “no-fly” list and to disclose to her what is her current status on the “no-fly” list.

The lawsuit is the oldest of three currently being litigated to challenge the government’s secretive “no-fly” list, which effectively bars individuals the government often mistakenly believes to pose a security threat from flying. The Obama administration vehemently opposed Ibrahim’s lawsuit, sought to keep the December trial secret and is currently requesting that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals keep the ruling sealed.

“Judge Alsup’s ruling affirms that basic notions of transparency and accountability apply to even the U.S. government’s ‘no-fly’ list. We welcome this ruling and look forward to further clarity as to how one can navigate the maze created by the ‘no-fly’ list and other similar listings,” said AAAJ–ALC staff attorney Nasrina Bargzie.

“Each year our offices hear from hundreds of individuals who are visited by the FBI and face related travel issues,” said Zahra Billoo, executive director of the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Many have lost hope about clearing their names, but this case will renew our collective desire to continue forward with the courts on our side.”

Under the guidelines, people who have been stopped from boarding flights may file an inquiry with the Department of Homeland Security, but responses do not include information about whether the person is on the no-fly list, according to the ACLU. The only way to find out whether a person has been removed from the no-fly list is to buy a ticket and try to board a flight.
RNS.com: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/01/16/judge-rules-favor-muslim-woman-fly-list/
CAIR.com: http://cair.com/press-center/press-releases/12322-civil-rights-groups-welcome-legal-victory-against-no-fly-list.html

Muslim cabbie sues St. Louis, taxicab commission over clothing rules

St. Louis – A Muslim taxicab driver is suing the city of St. Louis, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and a private security company, saying he has been harassed and arrested because he insists on wearing religious garb.

Raja Awais Naeem, who works for Harris Cab and manages a shuttle service called A-1 Shuttle, says his religious beliefs require him to wear modest, loose-fitting clothing and a hat called a kufi. But that garb has run afoul of the taxicab commission’s dress code for cabbies, Naeem claims in the suit filed Thursday morning in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Naeem, originally from Pakistan but now a U.S. citizen living in St. Louis County, said he has been told he must adhere to the commission’s rules requiring a white shirt, black pants and no kufi. Baseball caps are allowed, as long as they have no logo other than the taxi certificate holder.

He claims he has been harassed and had his taxi license suspended when he continued wearing clothing he says is required by Islam, including the kufi, a loose shirt called a kurta and loose-fitting pants called shalwar. Naeem said the clothing maintains modesty by concealing the figure.

Representatives of the city, the taxicab commission and Whelan either could not be reached for comment or declined to comment on the suit.

In his lawsuit, Naeem says he was written a citation by a Whelan Security guard in June 2011 for wearing “foreign country religious dress.” Other times he had his taxi license suspended or was told he would be arrested for trespassing if he worked in his religious clothing, he said.

He said he tried to seek approval from the taxicab commission to wear his religious dress, providing the commission an affidavit in October about the importance of the clothing he wears.

Naeem says he filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission of Missouri, which issued him right-to-sue letters on each complaint.

His suit seeks an injunction to allow religious dress for cabdrivers and civil damages including attorney’s fees and other costs.

 

St. Louis Post-Dispatches: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/muslim-cabbie-sues-st-louis-taxicab-commission-over-clothing-rules/article_5e88f07f-7c5e-5a89-85b6-fb4f67bb451d.html

Washington state man fired over religious beard wins court fight

October 10, 2013

A Seattle-area Muslim man who said his former employer fired him because of the beard he wears for religious reason has been awarded more than $66,000, although most of that will go to attorney fees.

Abdulkadir Omar said he doesn’t care about the money.

“It’s not even about the money,” he said. “It’s about standing up for something you believe in.”

In 2011, Omar filed his federal lawsuit in Seattle against Sacramento, Calif.-based American Patriot Security, seeking back pay and unspecified damages for emotional pain and loss of enjoyment of life, among other reasons.

According to the lawsuit, Omar was hired by a local manager of the security company in May 2009 and earned $9 an hour guarding a FedEx warehouse in Kent, Wash. He said he started the same day he was hired, and was not told about the clean-shaven policy.

In November 2009, a supervisor from headquarters told him he had to shave his beard because of the policy. Omar refused, saying his beard is part of his religious beliefs. He was suspended, and fired the following spring, the lawsuit said.

Born in Yemen, Omar said he immigrated to the United States when he was 10.

“I grew up in this country, I’ve been living here all of my life. Just like everybody else, I’m an American,” he said.

The default judgment says that more than $50,000 of the $66,000 award is for attorney fees, while most of the rest goes to Omar, who said he was unemployed for nine months after being dismissed by American Patriot.

Omar sued the security firm with the help of the Washington chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations.

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/washington-state-man-fired-over-religious-beard-wins-court-fight/2013/10/10/39279faa-31d0-11e3-ad00-ec4c6b31cbed_story.html

Islamic group sues Des Plaines for rejecting planned mosque

Another federal court battle is brewing over a northwest suburb’s refusal this summer to let a 160-member Islamic group open a mosque in a vacant building in an industrial area.

The lawsuit filed Monday against Des Plaines and five of its aldermen is the latest to take on a “knee-jerk reaction to something Islamic or Muslim,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago.

His group helped win a $445,000 settlement from DuPage County in a similar case earlier this year. Now, it’s backing the case brought by the American Islamic Center and its attorney, Tony Peraica.

“We believe this was done for discriminatory reasons,” Peraica said.

Des Plaines officials either declined to comment Monday or failed to return calls from the Sun-Times.

Nearly all of the American Islamic Center’s members are Bosnian refugees from the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to its lawsuit. It said it entered a contract in February to buy an empty office building on 1.8 acres of land at 1645 Birchwood Ave., for religious and educational activities.