Terrorism Finance Laws Undermine American Muslims' Religious Freedom, Says ACLU

June 16, 2009 12:00 am

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New Comprehensive Report Details Effects Of Flawed Policies On Muslim Charitable Giving

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NEW YORK – U.S. terrorism finance laws and policies unfairly prevent Muslim Americans from practicing their religion through charitable giving, create a climate of fear and distrust in law enforcement and undermine America’s diplomatic efforts in Muslim countries, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report out today. The 164 page report, “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity,” is the first comprehensive report that documents the serious effects of Bush administration terrorism finance laws on Muslim communities across the nation.

“Without notice and through the use of secret evidence and opaque procedures, the Treasury Department has effectively closed down seven U.S.-based Muslim charities, including several of the nation’s largest Muslim charities,” said Jennifer Turner, a researcher with the ACLU Human Rights Program and author of the report. “While terrorism financing laws are meant to make us safer, policies that give the appearance of a war on Islam only serve to undermine America’s diplomatic efforts just as President Obama reaches out to the Muslim world. These counter-productive practices alienate American Muslims who are key allies and chill legitimate humanitarian aid in parts of the world where charities’ good works could be most effective in winning hearts and minds.”

According to the report, terrorism finance laws expanded after 9/11 grant the Treasury Department virtually unchecked power to designate groups as terrorist organizations and lack procedural safeguards that would protect American charities against government mistake and abuse. These laws authorize executive branch officials to target charities on the basis of secret evidence and without notice, charges, opportunity to respond, or meaningful judicial review. The laws also permit the Treasury Department to seize all of a charity’s assets “pending investigation,” pursuant only to a blocking order signed by a mid-level Treasury Department official.

According to the report, for which the ACLU conducted 120 interviews with Muslim community leaders and donors in several states, federal law enforcement agents are engaging in practices that intimidate Muslim American donors, such as widespread interviews about their donations and surveillance of donations at mosques. Those interviewed say 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 and tarnish America’s reputation as a beacon of religious freedom,” said Turner. “Post-9/11 policies have created a climate of fear that prevents Muslims from practicing their religion, and unless the Obama administration takes action, this legacy of the Bush administration will persist.”

In his speech from Cairo on June 4, President Obama raised the issue of terrorism finance laws that have an adverse effect on Muslim giving. The ACLU report makes comprehensive recommendations to the Obama administration and Congress that are necessary to ensure terrorism financing policies are consistent with American values of due process and religious freedom and in line with U.S. human rights commitments.

“Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” and a new video featuring people who have been affected by the laws are available online at: www.aclu.org/muslimcharities

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