The New York City Police Department has agreed to reform a discriminatory surveillance program that broadly targeted American Muslims based on their religion.
AU ally Muslim Advocates announced a settlement agreement with the NYPD last week that ends a six-year legal battle over the department’s practice of spying on Muslims in New Jersey in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retailers, two grade schools and two Muslim Student Associations were among those wrongly singled out for surveillance – even though they had no connection to terrorism.
No other religious group was subjected to similar surveillance, and the NYPD acknowledged the program resulted in no arrests or useful tips. The monitoring included video surveillance, photographing license plates, community mapping and infiltration by undercover officers and informants at places of worship, student associations and businesses. All of this activity was undertaken even though there was no evidence that the individuals targeted had engaged or planned to engage in any illegal activity.
Hassan v. City of New York was the first lawsuit filed on behalf of American Muslims following a 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by The Associated Press into the NYPD’s surveillance of suspicionless Muslims. Two other related cases were previously settled.
As part of the settlement, Muslim Advocates said the NYPD agreed not to engage in suspicionless surveillance on the basis of religion or ethnicity; to permit the plaintiffs to give input for a first-ever public Policy Guide on the Intelligence Bureau’s activities; to have the NYPD Commissioner or a senior ranking official meet with plaintiffs to hear their concerns; and to pay more than $1 million in damages and legal fees.
Muslim Advocates said settlement talks began after a federal appeals court in Philadelphia allowed the case to proceed in late 2015. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stinging rebuke of the NYPD’s alleged religious profiling and compared the rationale for it to the government’s treatment of “Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II.”
Americans United in 2014 filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 3rd Circuit on behalf of the plaintiffs. AU’s brief noted that the Sept. 11 attacks did not justify the “indiscriminate surveillance of Muslims” and that the NYPD’s practice of spying on Muslims “reinforces the insidious stereotype that Muslims are inherently suspicious.” The brief added, “This type of surveillance, based on this manner of stereotyping, undermines not only the Plaintiffs’ religious freedom, but also our democracy.”
Just as it was wrong for the NYPD to use religion to single out Muslims for discriminatory surveillance programs, it is wrong today for the Trump administration to use religion as an excuse to ban Muslims from the United States. That’s why Trump’s Muslim ban is morally wrong, unconstitutional and un-American – it’s flagrant discrimination against a particular religion.
Last month, Americans United and our allies filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to stop President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. The brief was filed on behalf of five Maryland residents and two organizations serving Iranian Americans – all of whom are being harmed by the ban. AU also has been sharing the stories of other Americans who have been harmed by the ban and the Islamophobia that spawned it.
America is at its best when people of all religions feel welcome here. For people of all faiths and for people who don’t claim any faith at all – religious freedom means that the law treats everyone equally regardless of faith.
We’re glad to hear that the NYPD is reforming its practices and promising not to use religion to single out people for mistreatment. Now we hope the Supreme Court stops the Trump administration from doing the same. We urge the justices to come down on the right side of history and stop the Muslim Ban.