The New York Police Department’s widespread spying programs directed at Muslims have undermined free worship by innocent people and should be declared unconstitutional, religious leaders and civil rights advocates said Tuesday after the filing of a federal lawsuit.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly defended the department’s actions as necessary to identify and thwart terrorist plots.
“The NYPD’s strategic approach to combating terrorism is legal, appropriate and designed to keep our city safe,” top city lawyer Celeste Koeleveld said in a statement Tuesday. “The NYPD recognizes the critical importance of ‘on-the-ground’ research, as police need to be informed about where a terrorist may go while planning or what they may do after an attack, as the Boston Marathon bombing proved.”
Koeleveld called the intelligence-gathering an appropriate and legal tactic that helps keep the city safe from terrorism.
“Cities cannot play catch-up in gathering intelligence about a terrorist threat,” Koeleveld said. “Our results speak for themselves, with New York being the safest big city in America and the police having helped thwart several terrorist plots in recent years.”
Hamid Hassan Raza, an imam named as a plaintiff, told a rally outside police headquarters shortly after the suit was filed in federal court in Brooklyn that the program has hindered his work and preaching.
“Our mosque should be an open, religious and spiritual sanctuary, but NYPD spying has turned it into a place of suspicion and censorship,” Raza said.
The suit asks a judge to order the nation’s largest police department to stop their surveillance and destroy any related records. The lawsuit alleged that Muslim religious leaders in New York have modified their sermons and other behavior so as not to draw additional police attention.
The lawsuit describes a pattern of NYPD spying directed at Muslims in New York since the 2001 terrorist attacks, which were committed by 19 Muslim men who received sanctuary in mosques across the country.
Raza said he began taping his sermons at a Brooklyn mosque because of concerns that the NYPD was monitoring what he said and would take his words out of context. In addition, Raza and other religious leaders became highly suspicious of new members eager to join their communities because of the department’s rampant use of secret informants, the complaint said.