War on Terrorism

Friday, January 28, 2011

Visiting the Davis Mosque

Posted by Tracy Russo

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner today visited the Islamic Center of Davis to discuss civil rights and other issues of concern to the Muslim American community. Perez and Wagner addressed the congregation and answered questions during their visit, which is part of the Justice Department’s outreach initiative to enhance engagement with Muslim and Arab-American communities around the country.  Perez recently met with Muslim leaders in Detroit, Nashville and Roanoke.  

During the visit, Perez remarked;

“The Department is committed to responding forcefully to recent incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination and hate crimes. I look forward to a constructive dialogue with the Arab-American and Muslim communities on how best to confront these issues.”

Wagner said:

“Muslim Americans, like all Americans, deserve the full protection of federal law, including civil rights laws. By hearing directly from members of the community about their concerns, we can be more effective in safeguarding their rights and protecting them from crime. I look forward to expanding my office’s engagement with the Muslim communities of this region.”

Othman Alsaoud, president of the Islamic Center of Davis said of the visit:

“It was an honor to be visited today by our esteemed guests Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and US Attorney Benjamin Wagner. We all benefit from learning from each other and look forward to a good relationship in the future.  The Muslim community appreciates the outreach program of the US Attorney’s office; today’s visit by Mr. Perez and Mr. Wagner is yet another step toward building bridges of friendship and cooperation between Muslim Americans and US law enforcement.”

Guided by the goal of protecting our common security and our common values – a respect for civil liberties, an embrace of diversity and a commitment to religious freedom — Attorney General Eric Holder last year established an Arab and Muslim-American Engagement Advisory Group. This group coordinates and reviews policy initiatives that affect the community as well as the enhanced outreach efforts by various department components, including the Civil Rights Division, several U.S. Attorney’s Offices and FBI representatives.

The Department has been active in engaging with various communities, including the Muslim and Arab-American communities, to promote community law enforcement collaboration and to ensure the protection of civil rights and religious freedoms.  The Attorney General has also met with Arab and Muslim-American community leaders in Washington, D.C. and across the country to discuss the federal government’s relationship with the Arab and Muslim-American community and to improve the department’s communication and collaboration with members of the community.

Here are some examples of the Division’s enforcement actions that combat discrimination against the Arab and Muslim-American communities:

Hate Crimes
Since 9/11, the Department of Justice has investigated over 800 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against persons perceived to be Muslim or to be of Arab, Middle Eastern, and South-Asian origin. The Department has brought prosecutions against 49 defendants in such cases, with 45 convictions to date. Additionally, Department attorneys have coordinated with state and local prosecutors in numerous non-federal criminal prosecutions, in many cases providing substantial assistance.

A few examples of prosecutions:

•An Illinois man pleaded guilty on August 11, 2010 to sending a threatening email to a mosque in Urbana, IL. He was sentenced on November 3, 2010 to 12 months incarceration.
•Three Tennessee men pleaded guilty to spray painting swastikas and “white power” on a mosque in Columbia, Tennessee, and then starting a fire that completely destroyed the mosque.  In 2009 two of the men were sentenced to more than 14 and 15 years in prison.  On April 22, 2010, a third man was sentenced to more than 6 years in prison for his role in the crime. 
•In 2006, an Illinois man was sentenced to 15 months in prison for detonating an explosive that destroyed a Muslim-American family’s minivan outside their home.
Discrimination in Zoning

The Civil Rights Division enforces the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which prohibits discrimination against places of worship in zoning decisions.  In last year’s 10th Anniversary Report on RLUIPA, we noted that in the decade since the law’s enactment, we have opened 18 matters involving Mosques or Islamic centers – including eight opened since May 2010.

The Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a Tennessee state court proceeding in which neighbors of a proposed mosque challenged the county’s granting of a building permit. The neighbors argued that the county was wrong to treat the mosque in the same manner that it would treat a church. The Department’s brief argued that RLUIPA required such equal treatment. The court agreed in a decision on November 17, 2010.

The Department is working to protect the fundamental American value of free exercise of religion, and ensuring that Americans are not forced to decide between their faith and their jobs. Last month, the Civil Rights Division filed a case against the Berkeley School District in Illinois for failing to accommodate a Muslim teacher’s desire to take unpaid leave to go on the Hajj pilgrimage.

The Department recently settled a case against Essex County, NJ, that prevented a Muslim female corrections officer from wearing her religiously mandated Hijab. The settlement resulted in a change in policy.

Bullying and harassment in our schools is a growing problem.  The Departments of Justice and Education are jointly taking proactive steps to prevent the kind of intolerance that leads to bullying in schools.

The Department reached a settlement in a case in Cape Henlopen, DE, in which a teacher singled out an elementary student because she was Muslim, leading to severe harassment by other students.

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