On Thursday, People For the American Way, joined by Americans United For the Separation of Church and State filed a brief as a friend of the court in a case that dates back to anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of the Bush Administration in direct contradiction to settled law.
It is well settled that the government is prohibited from doling out punishment based on religion. And it is equally established that government cannot officially disfavor any particular religious group or denomination. Petitioners did both.
While there are some provisions in the constitution that only apply to citizens, such as voting rights, most constitutional protections apply to all people, regardless of citizenship status. Equal protection and due process provisions are among them.
This case is being heard in a climate of hatred toward Muslims and all minorities, a climate fostered by Donald Trump. It’s a climate that is hostile to rights for anyone who isn’t a member of the Trump cult. Yet, this case serves as a necessary reminder that hatred toward Muslims is a long established practice by Republicans.
The PFAW brief chronicles how even seemingly innocuous laws can be used to persecute a targeted group. The respondents in this case were arrested for alleged immigration law violations at a time when being a Muslim, Arab or looking like a Muslim or Arab was enough for authorities to suspect the individual of being a terrorist. In reality, immigration law and other areas of the law were used as a basis to detain Muslims, Arabs and those who looked like them. Once detained they were treated as terrorism suspects solely because they were Muslim or looked like they might be.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s policy included deliberate isolation of detained Muslims/suspected Muslims from the outside world and delay of their immigration hearings.” They informed subordinates the detainees were suspected terrorists who “needed to be encouraged in any possible way to cooperate.”
The detainees were held in horrifying conditions for prolonged periods of time, including “an especially harsh form of solitary confinement.” This was happening in New York – not Abu Graib, not Gitmo or the many dark sites around the world.
They spent more than twenty-three hours per day in tiny cells, were subject to sleep deprivation (a form of torture). Guards would yell offensive comments at them. The detainees suffered severe physical abuse including being slammed into walls, having their limbs or fingers twisted. They were shackled when moved and sometimes the detainees were lifted by the chains or guards would step on their leg chains.
Detainees also faced psychological abuse. Muslims had to wait weeks for a Koran if they received one at all. They were denied access to Halal food. Guards refused to tell them the date, leaving detainees unable to determine when Ramadan began. There were no clocks and guards refused to tell detainees the time so they could pray per the requirements of their faith. When they did pray, guards would bang on cell doors, screamed derogatory remarks or tell them to “STFU.”
This conduct flies in the face of the equal protection and freedom of religion clauses of the Constitution. Yet, it is probable that as of January 2017, the reality show entertainer will reinstate these policies and add others.
We’re entering a period of darkness in which this case could either stop it cold or green light Trump’s reign of terror toward Muslims and others.
As it stands, Nazis are planning armed “marches” against Jews, Jewish businesses and the decent people who support them. The LGBT community faces the reemergence of bullying, harassment, and stigmatization.
Children face daily bullying and chants about Trump’s xenophobic wall on a daily basis – in school. Racists jokes about Blacks, Asians and Hispanics are becoming routine. Some of these children live in constant fear that their parents will be deported, others live in fear of being shot by the police.
Some of this is an ongoing problem, getting worse in an America where some Supreme Court Justices believe racism no longer exists.
This is the America that Trump is trying to normalize, an America where there is a hierarchy of rights based on who you are or how you pray. Ultimately, that’s what this case is about. It’s a case about government officials discriminating against Muslims because they are Muslim. If the Bush administration’s conducted is ruled within the Constitution who knows who will be the next to see their civil rights shredded because of who they are or how they pray.
Argument in this case, Ziglar v. Abbasi, is scheduled for January 18, 2017 – two days before Trump’s inauguration.