June 4, 2010

ACLU Reiterates Call For Reform

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – One year after President Obama's Cairo speech on the relationship between the United States and Muslims around the world, the American Civil Liberties Union reiterates its call for improvements to national security policies that unfairly target Muslims. Many of the discriminatory policies identified by President Obama last year still exist but do not make America any safer.

"The administration has acknowledged that some national security policies have unfair and disproportionate impact on American Muslims, but we still have a long way to go to achieve the goals President Obama laid out a year ago," said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. "Discriminatory policies such as racial profiling are not only unfair, but harm our country's security interests by wasting scarce government resources and eroding the trust of the communities in law enforcement and government."

Among other things, the ACLU is calling for reform of terrorism financing laws and policies that prevent Muslim Americans from practicing their religion through charitable giving. Although President Obama acknowledged the issue of U.S. terrorism financing laws that chill Muslim Americans' religious practice in his speech, the administration has failed to ask Congress to narrow the laws or made an effort to change its enforcement policies. These laws grant the executive branch virtually unchecked power to designate charities as "foreign terrorist organizations" on the basis of secret evidence without giving organizations a meaningful chance to defend themselves, and make it a crime to provide humanitarian aid, services or other assistance to designated organizations. The government's actions have a chilling effect on Muslim charitable giving, or Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims.

"Widespread intimidation of Muslim donors and the arbitrary blacklisting of charitable organizations trample on Muslims' free exercise of religion through charitable giving, create a climate of fear and distrust in law enforcement and undermine America's diplomatic efforts in Muslim countries," said Jennifer Turner, ACLU Human Rights Researcher and author of the report Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity. "Post-9/11 policies have created a climate of fear that prevents Muslims from practicing their religion, and unless the Obama administration takes immediate action, this legacy of the Bush administration will persist."

The ACLU is also calling for an end to the practice of improperly targeting U.S. citizens who are Muslim or perceived to be so, but are not suspected of posing any threat, for questioning by Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection officers about their religious and political beliefs, associations and practices, including religiously-motivated charitable contributions, when they return home to the United States from overseas travel.

"The U.S. government clearly has an interest in verifying the identity and citizenship of individuals seeking to reenter the country and ensuring that individuals who pose a threat to national security are not permitted to enter," said German. "But questioning U.S. citizens simply because they are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim about their religious and political beliefs and associations is unconstitutional and does nothing to make this nation safer."

The ACLU is calling on the Obama administration and Congress to take immediate steps to fix these harmful and unconstitutional policies and practices.

The ACLU report Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity is available online at: www.aclu.org/human-rights/report-blocking-faith-freezing-charity

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