October 7, 2014, New York – Despite Mayor de Blasio’s claims that he had a new vision for the City of New York and his dismantling of the New York Police Department (NYPD) Muslim spying unit, his administration filed a brief just before midnight last night that vigorously defends the practice of spying on American Muslim communities without suspicion of wrongdoing. This was the first time since the de Blasio administration took office that the City has publicly taken a position in Hassan et. al v. City of New York, the Muslim Advocates and Center for Constitutional Rights case in which a diverse group of New Jersey Muslims claims that the NYPD illegally spies on Muslims throughout New York, New Jersey and other states solely because of their faith.
“Last night’s brief is disappointing because it shows that the new administration does not care about protecting Americans’ basic right to pray,” said Glenn Katon, Muslim Advocates Legal Director. “We’ve seen the serious harm the NYPD has inflicted on victims just because they are Muslim, and the City’s brief continues to argue that the NYPD should be allowed to spy on people because of their faith.”
The City’s brief makes the same arguments it used during the Mayor Bloomberg/Commissioner Kelly era and claims that surveillance of people based upon their religion is not illegal. Even though the Supreme Court has forbidden law enforcement to use constitutionally protected characteristics as a reason to spy on communities or individuals, the NYPD continues to defend its program.
“This response is a broad-based defense of the entire mapping and surveillance program, including an assertion that the police can single out an entire class of people on the basis of their religion and treat them differently,” said Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “In effect, the City relies on the events of 9/11 to justify treating all Muslims in this country as second class citizens.”
The Hassan plaintiffs comprise a broad group with diverse backgrounds, and include among others a decorated Iraq war veteran who currently serves as a U.S. Army Reservist, Rutgers students, and the former principal of a grade school for Muslim girls.
“It’s not asking much for the NYPD to respect rights of Muslims as typical Americans and not treat us like criminals when we haven't done anything illegal,” said Farhaj Hassan, lead plaintiff in Hassan. “This is not what America stands for, and it’s time for the City to acknowledge that.”
The federal trial court dismissed the case in February, ruling in a 10-page summary opinion
, without oral argument, that plaintiffs had not suffered harm and that any harm the plaintiffs might have suffered was not the result of the unlawful surveillance program, but of the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting by the Associated Press that exposed it. The court also endorsed the City’s argument that its targeting of Muslims on the basis of their faith alone was justified in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. In more than ten years of operation, the City’s discriminatory program has failed to produce a single lead.
Hassan was initially filed by Muslim Advocates. The Center for Constitutional Rights and Gibbons, P.C. have joined as co-counsel.
Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization working on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. Through high impact lawsuits, policy advocacy, and community education, Muslim Advocates serves as a resource to empower communities and ensures that the American Muslim community is heard by the courts and leaders at the highest level of government. Visit Muslim Advocates at www.muslimadvocates.org and follow @muslimadvocates.