A lawsuit filed Tuesday claims the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim-Americans violates civil rights and undermines free worship by innocent citizens.
Civil rights attorneys filed the suit in Manhattan federal court against the NYPD, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen.
In 2011, The Associated Press revealed the NYPD has a Demographic Unit, which deploys undercover officers to spy on Muslim communities in the tri-state region. Last year, Bloomberg defended the surveillance of Muslim-Americans insisting it is the duty of the nation’s largest police department to “keep this country safe.”
"Our mosque should be an open, religious, a spiritual sanctuary, but NYPD spying has turned it into a place of suspicion and censorship," said Hamid Hassan Raza, an imam named as a plaintiff, at a rally outside police headquarters, USA Today reported.
Filed on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques and a charitable organization, the suit asks a judge to dismantle the spy program and destroy any related records. This is the third suit filed against the surveillance program since 2011.
"Through the Muslim surveillance program, the NYPD has imposed an unwarranted badge of suspicion and stigma on law-abiding Muslim New Yorkers, including plaintiffs in this action," the complaint states.
Plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project at CUNY School of Law.
“When a police department turns law-abiding people into suspects because they go to a mosque and not a church or synagogue, it violates our Constitution’s guarantees of equality and religious freedom,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, in a press release. “No one questions that the NYPD has a job to do, but spying on innocent New Yorkers because of their religion is a wrong and ineffective way to do it.”
The suit claims New York City has violated its First and Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiffs say they have changed the way they interact with their community because they fear the spy program.
“I don’t talk to my congregants about current affairs or religious subjects the NYPD may find objectionable because I’m afraid of further police attention,” Raza said. “The surveillance program has prevented me from fulfilling my duty as an imam. I cannot believe this has happened in the country that I know and love.”