SHAFAQNA – In an historic ruling last week, a federal appeals court upheld the right of American Muslims to be free from suspicionless surveillance based solely upon their religion. The case challenging the NYPD’s Muslim spying program filed by Muslim Advocates in June 2012 was reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in spectacular fashion.
We filed Hassan v. City of New York to ensure American Muslims and all Americans can give to charity, attend houses of worship, operate businesses, participate in student clubs, and be active in civic life without fear the government will spy on them because of their faith.
The facts about the surveillance alleged in the case stem from news that broke in the Associated Press in late 2011 of an NYPD program infiltrating American Muslim communities in New York City and throughout the Northeast. The AP went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for its series and released actual NYPD reports that detailed some of the activities targeting Muslims.
The court used strong language to put the allegations of NYPD surveillance of Muslims in the historical context of other racial and religious groups that have been persecuted when the government claims it is acting to preserve national security: Japanese Americans during World War II, Jewish Americans during the Red Scare, and African Americans during the civil rights movement.
As a procedural matter, the court simply reversed the trial court’s dismissal and allowed the case to go forward so the plaintiffs can prove the NYPD’s misconduct. However, the significance of the 59-page opinion goes well beyond the procedural. The decision is akin to a ruling that the NYPD’s spying on Muslims is unconstitutional, since the allegations of the religion-based surveillance come directly from the NYPD’s own documents.
We applaud the Third Circuit Court’s acknowledgment that law enforcement cannot spy on people based on their faith and will build on that ruling as we prepare for trial. There is a chance that the NYPD could appeal the court’s decision by seeking special permission to do so, but it is highly unlikely that either the full Third Circuit or U.S. Supreme Court would consider such an appeal at this stage.
Hassan was initially filed by Muslim Advocates; the Center for Constitutional Rights and Gibbons, P.C. joined as co-counsel several months later. It was the first case to challenge the NYPD’s Muslim spying program.