Lawsuit says military pushes religion

By John Milburn TOPEKA, Kan. — A foundation that has sued the military alleging widespread violations of religious freedom said Tuesday that it has evidence showing that soldiers are pressured to adopt fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The photos and videos of religious materials and activities are part of a lawsuit filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Army Spc. Jeremy Hall, an atheist, against Maj. Freddy J. Welborn and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The material was gathered from Fort Riley in Kansas, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fort Jackson, S.C. Examples at Fort Riley, where Hall is stationed, included a display outside his military police battalion’s office with a quote from conservative writer Ann Coulter saying, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Another photo from Fort Riley shows the book “A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” for sale at the post exchange.

Judge Orders Louis Farrakhan to Appear

HAMMOND, Ind. — A federal judge has ordered Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan to appear in court to explain why payments to his son are not considered income. A Gary couple are seeking to collect $350,000 from Farrakhan’s 48-year-old son, who lost a lawsuit after crashing his father’s Hummer into their car in 2003 and leaving the scene. Nasir Farrakhan has yet to pay any of the punitive damages awarded to Charles and Gladys Peterson, though they received $464,000 for their medical expenses from his insurance company.

Muslim woman sues for being forced to remove headscarf in U.S. jail

LOS ANGELES: A Muslim woman arrested for riding a commuter train without a valid ticket has filed a federal lawsuit in the United States, claiming her religious freedom was violated when she was forced to remove her headscarf when she was taken to jail. Jameelah Medina also said she was intimidated by a deputy who accused her of being a terrorist and called Islam an “evil” religion, according to the suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Judge: Philadelphia police can bar officer from wearing head scarf

PHILADELPHIA: A federal judge ruled that the city’s police department did not violate the civil rights of a Muslim officer when it forbade her from wearing a head scarf on the job. Kimberlie Webb, 44, who has been on the force more than 10 years, filed a discrimination lawsuit in October 2005 after the department said she could not wear a khimar at work because the religious symbol violated uniform regulations. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III on Tuesday sided with the city and dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the police department did not discriminate or retaliate against Webb. “Prohibiting religious symbols and attire helps to prevent any divisiveness on the basis of religion both within the force itself and when it encounters the diverse population of Philadelphia,” Bartle wrote. “Under the circumstances, it would clearly cause the city an undue hardship if it had to allow (Webb) to wear a khimar.” In February 2003, Webb told her supervisor that her religion required her to wear the scarf, which covered her hair, forehead, neck, shoulders, and chest. When her request was denied, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Muslim’s Lawsuit Alleges Humiliation; Aim is to Increase Tolerance, Attorney Says

Just before he was scheduled to undergo surgery to treat oral cancer, Mohammed A. Hussain went to the bathroom at the hospital — and that’s when he says the humiliation began. Inside the restroom at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, the 61-year-old Muslim performed the Islamic ritual of washing his hands and feet. The private ritual, known as wudhu, was to purify his body and soul before praying. But Hussain never got to pray. A hospital security guard saw him washing himself in the sink, Hussain said, and proceeded to manhandle him, yell racial epithets at him, push him down the corridor and order him to exit the hospital. “He was just very loud and yelling at me,” Hussain said. “He pushed me and literally dragged me into the lobby. . . . It was very terrifying.” Hussain filed a $30 million lawsuit Friday against the hospital, alleging assault, battery and emotional distress from the incident about 10 a.m. March 22. Because the case is in litigation, hospital officials would not comment other than to release a brief statement saying that hospital executives contacted Hussain on several occasions before the suit was filed to discuss his concerns. Hussain’s lawsuit was first reported by the Baltimore Examiner. Hussain, who lives in Upper Marlboro and is a practicing physician and radiologist in Waldorf, described his experiences in an interview yesterday with The Washington Post. He said he was treated as if he were homeless or a criminal. It was “humiliating,” he said. “People who are coming in the bathroom and treating you so harshly and thinking everybody is either a terrorist or somebody who you don’t recognize of your color or your race — this is something that is a very emotionally tortured experience,” Hussain said. The guard, identified in the suit as Rodney Corban, yelled at Hussain to “get out here!” Hussain said. Corban “was extreme and outrageous, and beyond the bounds of decency in society,” according to court filings. Hussain said he repeatedly told Corban that he was a patient at the hospital and a licensed physician, but he said Corban did not seem to listen. Hussain said a crowd — including his wife, who is a psychiatrist, and their two adult daughters — witnessed the scene in the lobby. “Everybody in the lobby, including my family, was stunned as to why I had been treated like this,” Hussain said. “They were very devastated.” Hussain said he underwent the oral cancer surgery later that day and has returned to the hospital for other procedures. Hospital officials would not say yesterday whether Corban was disciplined after the incident. Corban worked a shift yesterday, a hospital receptionist said, but he did not respond to a message left for him there yesterday afternoon. Hussain’s attorney, David Ellin, said his client sued the hospital because he did not think executives were taking his case seriously enough. “He felt the only way to get their attention and make any changes was to really put their feet to the fire and file a lawsuit,” Ellin said. Ellin said Hussain’s aim with the suit is not to win compensation but to raise awareness about Islam and religious prejudices. “This is really done to try to educate people on the religion of Islam and make people more tolerant and just educate them on different religious backgrounds,” Ellin said. Hussain said he immigrated to the United States from India in 1972 and has been a U.S. citizen for two decades. He said he blames his experience at the hospital on a general lack of education about his religion. “People are so much ignorant about this and deal with it so harshly,” Hussain said. A survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group, found last year that just 2 percent of Americans were “very knowledgeable” about Islam and that 60 percent were “not very knowledgeable” or “not at all knowledgeable” about the religion. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last year found that nearly half of Americans had a negative view of Islam. Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the council, said education is the key to overcoming the kind of prejudices Hussain faced. “I think it’s just a lack of knowledge of Islam and basic Islamic practices that led to this unfortunate misunderstanding,” Hooper said. “With the filing of this lawsuit, there may be more awareness in the general society about what to Muslims is a fairly routine practice but to others who don’t know what it is might be something that they would be concerned about.” Staff researcher Rena Kirsch contributed to this report.

Muslim woman sues judge over veil

A Muslim woman whose small-claims court case was dismissed after she refused to remove her veil sued the judge Wednesday, saying her religious and civil rights were violated. Ginnnah Muhammad, 42, of Detroit, says in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit that Judge Paul Paruk’s request to remove her veil – and his decision to dismiss her case when she didn’t – was unconstitutional based on her First Amendment right to practice her religion. The claim against Paruk also cites a federal civil rights law in alleging that Muhammad was denied access to the courts because of her religion. Muhammad wore a niqab – a scarf and veil that covers her head and face, leaving only the eyes visible – during the October hearing in Hamtramck, a city surrounded by Detroit. She was contesting a $2,750 charge from a rental-car company to repair a vehicle that she said thieves had broken into. Paruk told her he needed to see her face to judge her truthfulness and gave her a choice: take off the veil while testifying or have the case dismissed. She kept it on. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. then filed a claim seeking a judgment of $2,000 against Muhammad. A hearing is set for April 18 before Paruk in Hamtramck’s district court. Muhammad’s attorney, Nabih Ayad, said that she unsuccessfully sought to get a different judge to hear the case and that she and her client plan to ask him to remove himself from the case. A message seeking comment was left Wednesday for Paruk. Metropolitan Detroit has one of the country’s largest Muslim and Arab populations. The lawsuit says that because of that, others have either come before Paruk or will come before him. “Thus, future harm is imminent.” “You should be able to be who you are as long as you’re not a criminal or hurting other people,” said Muhammad, who converted to Islam when she was 10 and runs an aromatherapy business in suburban Detroit. “I want to make sure everyone across the board is able to practice their religion freely in a democratic society.” Muhammad said she would have removed her veil before a female judge. “The way I believe in Islam is that a woman is very virtuous,” she said. “We should be covered when we come out. This protects me as well as other people. I believe that God wants me that way.” Michigan law has no rules on how judges should handle religious attire of people in court.

Muslims sue for citizenship, allege gender, religious bias

Ten Muslim men allege that they have been denied U.S. citizenship for up to two years, in violation of their civil rights, despite passing every test and interview, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday. The men are permanent legal residents who say they should have been sworn in as citizens within 120 days of meeting all the requirements. Instead, they said they have been kept waiting for a year or more. Meanwhile, “hundreds of thousands of other people seeking to be naturalized” have had their swearing-in ceremonies, the lawsuit said.

Held In 9/11 Net, Muslims Return To Accuse U.S.

By NINA BERNSTEIN Hundreds of noncitizens were swept up on visa violations in the weeks after 9/11, held for months in a much-criticized federal detention center in Brooklyn as “persons of interest” to terror investigators, and then deported. This week, one of them is back in New York and another is due today – the first to return to the United States. They are no longer the accused but the accusers, among six former detainees who are coming back to give depositions in their federal lawsuits against top government officials and detention guards, at a time when the constitutionality of part of the government’s counterterrorism offensive is under new scrutiny. As in the cases of all the Muslim immigrants rounded up in the New York area after the terror attacks, the six were never accused of a crime related to 9/11; officials eventually cleared all of them of links to terrorism. A report by the inspector general of the Justice Department found systemic problems with immigrant detentions and widespread abuse at the federal detention center where the six had been held; several guards have since been disciplined. But as the six return to the city – four of them from Egypt, one from Pakistan, one from London – the conditions imposed by the United States government include the requirement that they be in the constant custody of federal marshals. They are barred from calling anyone during their weeklong stays at an undisclosed New York hotel, where 12 days of closed depositions are to begin today. They can expect hours of questioning by lawyers representing at least 31 defendants in the lawsuits, including John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I. The first returning detainees, Yasser and Hany Ibrahim, who are brothers, say that putting themselves back in the hands of the government they are suing is an act of faith in America. In recent telephone interviews from Alexandria, Egypt, the two described themselves as frightened but resolute in pressing a 2002 class-action lawsuit charging that they were abused and deprived of due process because of their religion or national origin. “I’m seeking justice,” said Yasser, 33, who had a Web site design business in Brooklyn before he and Hany, 29, a deli worker, were delivered in shackles to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn 19 days after 9/11. “It’s from the same system that did us injustice before. But I have faith in this system. I know what happened before was a mistake.” Charles S. Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said officials would not comment on any aspect of the case, including the conditions of the men’s return to the city and their allegations. But in court papers, the defendants deny wrongdoing, and department lawyers argue in part that the Sept. 11 attacks created “special factors” – including the need to detect and deter future terrorist attacks – that outweigh the plaintiffs’ right to sue for damages for any constitutional violations. The detainees’ lawyers say that what happened at the Brooklyn detention center can be recognized four years later as the template for many of the counterterrorism measures now being fiercely challenged. “The post-9/11 domestic immigration sweeps were the first example of the Bush administration’s willingness to ignore the law and hold people outside the judicial system,” said Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Ibrahim brothers. “The kind of torture, interrogation and arbitrary detention that we now associate with Guant_namo and secret C.I.A. facilities really started right here, in Brooklyn.” Richard Peter Caro, a lawyer for Stuart Pray, the lieutenant who oversaw the detainees’ arrival at the detention center, said yesterday: “We’re glad that they’re coming in to be deposed so we can really get at the facts and finally see what the evidence shows. I’m confident that my client will be found to have committed no wrongdoing at all.” Last week, the center filed a class-action suit against President Bush and other administration officials over the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping without warrants. Ms. Meeropol is one of the plaintiffs, contending that her communications with clients like the Ibrahims may have been monitored illegally. The government says the surveillance program is a legal and valuable tool in the war on terror. Illegal recording of lawyer-client conversations was one of the abuses documented at the Brooklyn detention center in a scathing 2003 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The report also found a pattern of physical abuse, some of it caught on prison videotape, including beatings and sexual humiliations like those described by the Ibrahim brothers or other former detainees. The report said it was Mr. Ashcroft’s policy to hold detainees on any legal pretext until the F.B.I. cleared them, even though such clearances took months and many detainees were immigrants picked up by chance. At the time, Mr. Ashcroft said he made “no apologies” for finding every legal way possible to protect the American public. Nonetheless, officials pledged to work on getting kinks out of the system, and said abuses would be punished. Critics charge that the authority that Mr. Ashcroft asserted after 9/11 – to detain any noncitizen considered a “person of interest” secretly and indefinitely – is unconstitutional. Government officials argue that secrecy is needed to keep terrorists in the dark. Mr. Ashcroft has sought to have the two lawsuits brought by the detainees dismissed. But in a decision appealed by the government, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled in September that he and other defendants would have to answer questions, at a later deposition, in one of the suits: a 2004 complaint by another two of the six returning detainees. Those two men, in their late 30’s, are Ehab Elmaghraby, an Egyptian immigrant who ran a restaurant near Times Square, and Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani immigrant whose Long Island customers knew him as “the cable guy.” “I am not afraid,” Mr. Iqbal wrote last week in an e-mail message about his return. “I am also sure that justice will be served because peoples of U.S.A. are justice-loving people regardless of race and religion.” The Ibrahim brothers are more fearful. They say that their parents begged them not to return to the country where they were held in maximum security without charges for eight months and, the brothers charge, beaten and tormented by guards. “Part of my motivation is to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to more people in the future,” said Yasser, who was due to arrive in New York today, joining his brother, who came on Friday. Both spoke with nostalgia of the three or four years they lived in New York, on and off, before 9/11. When they were not working, they said, they hung out together in Greenwich Village, browsed electronics stores near Times Square and took friends on the rides at Coney Island. Hany proudly recalled how he worked his way up from stock boy to grill man and then manager of a deli in Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn. “The best I lived in my life was in New York,” he said. Right after the World Trade Center attack, they said, their parents urged them to come home. “We assured them,” Yasser recalled: ” ‘This is the United States. They don’t arrest people for no charges. We didn’t do anything, so nothing’s going to happen to us.’ ” But at 2 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2001, the lawsuit says, a dozen terrorism investigators from the F.B.I., the police and immigration services knocked at the door of the Ocean Parkway apartment that the brothers shared with several Egyptian and Moroccan friends. After questioning, the investigators took away Yasser, Hany and another man, all of whose tourist visas had expired. Why investigators showed up is unclear, said their lawyer, Ms. Meeropol. But she noted that some interrogations were prompted by anonymous tips about “suspicious-looking” foreign men. Federal officials have contended that at a time when a second terror attack seemed imminent, all tips had to be checked. As
a practical matter, once the brothers were labeled “of interest” to investigators, they were destined for the maximum-security unit of the Metropolitan Detention Center. Physical abuse, the lawsuit says, began the moment they arrived, chained and shackled. As Yasser described it, guards supervised by Lieutenant Pray slammed his brother face-first into a wall where an American flag T-shirt had been taped, then did the same to him. Pain became part of the brothers’ daily routine, the lawsuit charges. Escort teams cursing them as Muslims and terrorists slammed them into every available wall when they were taken from their cells, twisted their wrists and fingers, and stepped on their leg chains so that they fell, their ankles bruised and bloody, according to the suit. But worse than physical or verbal abuse, Yasser said, was “the feeling that we are being hidden from the outside world, and nobody knows in the outside world that we are arrested and in this place.” Hany, who says he had a nervous breakdown when he returned to Egypt, recalled that guards and lieutenants terrified him by saying, “You’re going to stay here the rest of your life.” At a closed immigration hearing on Nov. 20, three weeks after their arrest, the brothers agreed to immediate deportation. By Dec. 7, the lawsuit says, F.B.I. memos stated that clearance checks on the Ibrahims had shown no links to terrorism. But they were held six more months – Hany until May 29, 2002, and Yasser until June 6. The suit asks the court to declare that all the detentions were unjustified and illegal, to award compensatory and punitive damages, and to order the government to return personal property it confiscated. To prevent unnecessary detentions and abuses of noncitizens in the event of a new national emergency, the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, in 2003 recommended changes in counterterrorism policy as well as disciplinary action against at least 10 guards and supervisors. In his last report to Congress, in August 2005, Mr. Fine said that many of his recommendations had been acted upon but that formal policy changes were still being negotiated. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has fired two detention officers, suspended two for 30 days and demoted one in connection with the Brooklyn inquiry, said Traci Billingsley, a bureau spokeswoman. The Ibrahim brothers say that when they finally reached home, they found that the presumption of guilt had followed them into an Egyptian secret service dossier that made them unemployable. Yasser, now married with a 2-year-old son, said he and Hany were eking out a living in a small jewelry business. “It’s going to be very difficult for me to go back for just a week and not to be able to see the places that I loved before,” he said of his return. “America’s the land of the free.”

Muslims Can Be Searched After Conference: N.Y. Judge

American Muslims attending a major religious conference in Toronto on Friday are concerned they’ll be subjected to extraordinary searches and delays by U.S. border guards when they return home. Their concern followed a ruling by a New York district judge on Thursday that such searches did not violate the U.S. constitution. Judge William Skretny wrote that Customs and Border Protection “had reason to believe that these conferences would serve as meeting points for terrorists to exchange ideas and documents, co-ordinate operations, and raise funds intended for terrorist activities.” “I believe in religious freedom, and I will not allow the federal government to intimidate me out of that belief,” he said. Last year, several dozen Muslims men and women were searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for up to six hours before being allowed to cross back into the U.S. after a conference held in Toronto. The New York Civil Liberties Association took up their case. The association sought an injunction to prevent similar inspections following this year’s conference. It also launched a lawsuit demanding the state destroy any personal information retrieved through past searches. The judge did not grant the injunction, and threw out the lawsuit.

Post-9/11 Workplace Discrimination Continues

By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY Nearly four years after the terrorist attacks, Muslim, South Asian and Arab-American employees continue to report discrimination on the job. Compared with the first two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the number of employees saying they’ve been discriminated against as a form of backlash because of the attacks has declined. But charges continue to come in, indicating that Arab-American and other workers still feel discriminated against. “People are being called ‘terrorist’ at work, things of that sort,” says Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director at Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “A lot of cases continue to go on. People have been called Osama bin Laden, told they are going to mosque to learn how to build a bomb.” Nearly 280 claims of discrimination in the workplace were received by CAIR in 2004, and the workplace was the second-most-common location for an alleged incident. The first was government agencies. At the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, about 980 charges alleging post-9/11 backlash discrimination have been filed through June 11 since the 2001 attacks. Most involved firing and alleged harassment; the EEOC specifically tracks “backlash” cases, where employees claim discrimination relating to 9/11. Likewise, religious bias charges are higher today than before 9/11. From Sept. 11, 2001, through June 11, the EEOC received 2,168 charges of discrimination based on an employee’s Muslim religion. That compares with 1,104 such charges in the same time span before the attacks. The agency has obtained more than $4.2 million on behalf of employees alleging post-9/11 backlash. The EEOC has filed lawsuits against employers such as MBNA America Bank, the Plaza hotel in New York, Alamo Rent A Car and construction giant Bechtel. Some Recent Eeoc Cases: – A lawsuit alleging the New York Plaza hotel and Fairmont Hotel Management discriminated against Muslim, Arab and South Asian employees was settled last month for $525,000. A 2001 lawsuit claimed that Plaza employees were called “terrorist,” “Taliban” and “dumb Muslim.” It also alleges that managers wrote “Osama” and “Taliban” instead of employees’ names on key holders. Fairmont Hotel Management managed the hotel, which has since been sold. “As a company, we are committed to providing a work environment free of discrimination or harassment,” says Carolyn Clark, senior vice president of human resources at Fairmont, in Toronto. – In March, upscale seafood restaurant Pesce agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging bias against the store’s general manager. According to the lawsuit, a former co-owner openly speculated that the manager’s Egyptian name and appearance were the reasons Pesce had seen earnings drop in the months after 9/11. The manager was fired. Pesce, which has since been sold to new owners, declined to comment. – The EEOC filed a lawsuit last year against an MBNA subsidiary in Philadelphia claiming in part that offensive comments were made to Indian and black employees after 9/11, including an Indian employee who was called “Osama bin Laden.” The case is pending. MBNA says there is no merit to the claim.