Federal Appeals Court Reinstates Case Challenging Surveillance Of Muslims

A federal appeals court has given new life to a lawsuit brought by New Jersey Muslims who alleged that they were unconstitutionally targeted for surveillance by the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

In the aftermath of 9/11, NYPD stepped up its surveillance of Muslim communities in the New York City area, sending plainclothes detectives to gather information on mosques and Muslim student groups in the region, The New York Times reported.

After learning of the situation, a group of Muslim individuals, businesses, student associations and mosques that were targeted filed a lawsuit alleging their civil rights had been violated as their faith became a “permissible proxy for criminality.” The lawsuit charges that the NYPD watched at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two schools and two Muslim Students Associations in New Jersey.

“The N.Y.P.D.’s blanket surveillance of Muslims casts guilt on all people of that faith by suggesting that Muslims pose a special threat to public safety,” the suit said.

A judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey tossed that case, Hassan v. City of New York, in 2014, but in October a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit.

“What occurs here in one guise is not new,” wrote Judge Thomas L. Ambro. “We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the civil rights movement and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind. We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight that loyalty is a matter of the heart and mind, not race, creed or color.”

Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York Law Department, told The Times that the NYPD does not support religiously targeted surveillance.

“At this stage, the issue is whether the NYPD in fact surveilled individuals and businesses solely because they are Muslim, something the NYPD has never condoned,” he said. “Stigmatizing a group based on its religion is contrary to our values.”