In the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the New York City Police Department began a surveillance program targeting Muslim communities in New York City and the surrounding areas. The program 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 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In July 2014, Americans United filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. We argued 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 3rd Circuit reversed the trial court's decision and reinstated the lawsuit.
In April 2018, Muslim Advocates, who filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs, announced a settlement had been reached. As part of the settlement, the NYPD agreed not to engage in suspicionless surveillance on the basis of religion or ethnicity; to permit plaintiffs to have input in a first-ever public policy guide that will govern the Intelligence Bureau’s activities; to attend a public meeting with the plaintiffs so they can express their concerns about the issues in the lawsuit directly to the NYPD Commissioner or a senior ranking official; to pay businesses and mosques damages for income lost as a result of being unfairly targeted by the NYPD and to pay individuals damages for the stigma and humiliation they suffered for being targeted on the basis of their religion.