ACLU asks Justice to probe surveillance of Muslims by New York Police Department

The American Civil Liberties Union asked the Justice Department on Thursday to investigate efforts by the New York City Police Department to conduct surveillance in Muslim communities.

In a letter signed by 125 state and national organizations, the ACLU and the other groups urged the Justice Department’s civil rights division to open a probe of the “unlawful religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslims in New York City and beyond.”

“Putting a class of Americans under surveillance based on their religion is a clear violation of our Constitution’s guarantees of equality and religious freedom,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The NYPD’s surveillance program has stigmatized Muslims as suspect and had deeply negative effects on their free speech, association and religious practice.”

Citing NYPD documents and a series of investigative articles on the NYPD’s secret intelligence operations by the Associated Press, the ACLU said that New York police have sent paid people to infiltrate mosques, student associations and other places to take photos, write down license-plate numbers and keep notes on people because they are Muslim.

The ACLU also said NYPD officers and informants have “built a program dedicated to suspicionless blanket surveillance of Muslims in the greater New York City area,” routinely monitoring restaurants, bookstores and mosques.

The Justice Department is reviewing the letter, spokeswoman Dena Iverson said.

The ACLU letter was signed by an array of religious, racial justice, civil rights and community-based organizations, including the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the National Network for Arab American Communities.

“In America, law enforcement should never turn anyone’s First Amendment-protected religious beliefs into cause for suspicion, and yet evidence shows that’s exactly what the New York Police Department is doing to Muslim New Yorkers,” said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and a pastor at the Baptist Northminster Church in Monroe, La.

“The fact that people of faith might have to fear going to their houses of worship or freely practicing their religion is about as un-American as un-American gets,” Gaddy said.

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years.
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