A New York family filed a lawsuit this week after they were forcibly escorted out of the Empire State Building when they began kneeling on the observation deck to pray to Mecca.
Fahad Tirmizi, his wife, and their two young children were on the observation deck on July around 11 p.m., when the family’s "religious beliefs require them to recite the evening prayers wherever they may be at the time," according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Manhattan District Court.
The couple knelt in an isolated area of the deck, where they claim there was little foot traffic.
No one disturbed his wife, Amina, but a guard interrupted Fahad’s prayer. The claim says the guard “menacingly poked” him "with his hands and feet several times in various parts of his body.”
The guard told Fahad he wasn’t allow to pray on the observation deck, which hosts annual wedding ceremonies on Valentine's Day and even acrobatic performances from Cirque du Soleil.
The family was then “forcibly” escorted to the ground floor exit. The lawsuit says they were "shamed, humiliated and embarrassed in front of each other, their children, and the general public.”
The family is suing the publicly owned Empire State Building management company, two security guards and the security firm that employs them.
The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages for multiple civil rights violations and violations of the first and 14th Amendments.
"The claims are totally without merit and we will respond to them in court,” Empire State Realty Trust spokeswoman, Brandy Bergman, told CNN.
The family’s attorney, Phillip Hines, told CNN that removing people who pray is evidence of an “unwritten rule or policy being enforced.”
"They weren't bothering anybody, they were out of the way, and for them to be thrown out of the building is just an ignorant and shameful exercise in discriminatory conduct," Hines said.
Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, released a statement Wednesday supports the Tirmizi’s.
“Muslims who pray in public, including in public accommodations, are simply exercising their constitutional rights,” the statement said. “In play are two First Amendment rights: freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We hope that Hines investigates the extent to which security guards are expected to censor religious speech. We wish him, and this innocent Muslim couple, well."