ACLU Testimony For Congressional Hearing Urges Protection Of American Muslim Civil Rights

March 29, 2011 12:00 am

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Senate Held Important Hearing Today On Discrimination Facing Religious Group

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union called for protection of American Muslims’ civil rights in testimony submitted today for a Senate hearing before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. American Muslim communities have recently been facing a disturbing wave of bigotry and religiously motivated discrimination that includes attacks on existing and proposed Islamic centers and a misguided congressional hearing held by Rep. Peter King (R-NY).

“Discrimination against American Muslims – or any group – undermines the most core values upon which our country is built,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Our government should be protecting the rights of minority religious communities to practice their faiths freely, not contributing to their alienation. Hopefully, today’s hearing will bolster that sentiment.”

Earlier this month, Rep. King held a hearing as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee on the so-called “radicalization” of the American Muslim community and its level of cooperation with government anti-terrorism efforts. The ACLU submitted testimony for that hearing as well, urging Rep. King and his committee not to conflate First Amendment-protected practices with involvement in terrorism and to allow the Constitution to play a role in the hearings.

Today’s testimony submitted by the ACLU described recent societal discrimination against and government targeting of American Muslims, pointing to both overly broad Attorney General Guidelines and “material support” statutes as having a discriminatory effect on the religious group. The Attorney General Guidelines, which govern FBI investigations, were expanded in late 2008 and allow both racial and religious profiling by agents and permit suspicionless spying on individuals’ religious activities at their places of worship. Current material support statutes, intended as a mechanism to starve terrorist organizations of resources, are used instead to effectively impose guilt by association. Because the government does not provide clear guidance about what is and is not prohibited, many American Muslims are punished for wholly innocent assistance to blacklisted individuals and organizations.

“Protecting the First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech for all Americans makes us stronger,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Legislative Chief of Staff and First Amendment Counsel. “It is our hope that this hearing will be the beginning of the federal government’s effort to change its practices and to stop treating the American Muslim community as a ripe target for suspicion and investigation. It is time for Congress to acknowledge the harms that have been done to the community and to work to remedy them.”

To read the ACLU’s testimony, go to:

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