Jul 18, 2014
In the months following the September 11 attacks, the New York City Police Department began a surveillance program targeting Muslim communities in New York City and the surrounding areas. The surveillance extended to Muslims in New Jersey, and included surveillance of mosques, private schools, Muslim-owned business establishments, and at least one Muslim student group. The program continued undiscovered for more than a decade until it was exposed in 2011 by the Associated Press. In October 2012, a group of Muslims and organizations who had been targeted for surveillance filed suit against the city, in federal court, alleging violations of their rights under the Equal Protection, Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The trial court ruled against the plaintiffs in February, concluding among other things that the NYPD could permissibly target the Muslim community as a proxy for “Muslim terrorist activities.” The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In July 2014, we filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. We argue that the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from singling out a faith community for surveillance, and that the plaintiffs were entitled to pursue their claims in federal court. In October 2015, the Third Circuit reversed the trial court's decision and reinstated the lawsuit. Proceedings are on-going in the trial court.