The NYPD has designated entire places of worship as “terrorism enterprises” in order to justify using invasive methods to spy on parishioners with which they have no reasonable suspicion.  The report by the AP and the ACLU confirms that the NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program is based on nothing more than religious persecution, where whole communities in America are being treated as criminals without any constitutional safeguards.  To make matters worse, reportedly none of the surveillance has led to even one lead.  (Right:  Columbia University student protest.)

This past June, the ACLU, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the CLEAR project filed a lawsuit against the NYPD challenging this discriminatory and unconstitutional program.  NYPD officers, along with a network of “informants”, including a “spy” taxi have been spying on institutions that are frequented by anyone who practices Islam.  Surveillance cameras have been installed outside mosques, monitoring the comings and goings of congregants; informants have infiltrated associations, places of worship, restaurants, bookstores, and more to monitor and take notes on innocent people having personal conversations that have nothing to do with crime.

As the AP’s Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman write in their upcoming book “Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America”, the activities of the NYPD, which were set in motion after 9/11 have pushed deeply into the private lives of New Yorkers, “surveilling Muslims in their mosques, their sporting fields, their businesses, their social clubs, even their homes in a way not seen in America since the FBI and CIA monitored antiwar activists during the Nixon administration.”

Through this designation of a TEI or terrorism enterprise investigation, the police are allowed to skirt Constitutional restrictions.  It is clear that the designation was used without clear indications or suspicion of criminality and instead was used to justify surveilling as many ordinary people as possible.

Masjid Al-Ansar, one of the ACLU’s clients, experienced first hand the police spying.  Upon learning he was under surveillance for nothing and infiltrated by informants, he invested in an expensive video system to record sermons in order to prevent the police and their informants from misrepresenting what was being said.  In other words, he felt so oppressed and fearful of the police he took safeguards against the very people who are supposed to protect him and the rest of society in order to make sure they wouldn’t lie about him in a courtroom.

People who frequent mosques can’t even talk about what they want to, they are encouraged not to speak about certain subjects that could be mistaken by police and asked to limit their time at their own place of worship to avoid drawing unwarranted police surveillance to themselves or other innocent worshipers.  Another Muslim, Hamid Hassan Raza and Al-Ansar have adjusted the ministry at their place of worship out of fear.  Al-Ansar’s mosque was once a vibrant place of worship, learning, and community and now it is full of oppression and distrust.

Mohammad Elshinawy is a teacher of Islam who has lectured at many organizations around New York.  The FBI has closed its investigation into Elshinawy because there was no criminal wrongdoing, but the NYPD still deems him a threat because he is “highly regarded by so many young and impressionable individuals.”  In other words, the NYPD surveillance document obtained by the AP says that Elshinawy is being investigated because of his religion and his respectable behavior.  An informant attended Elshinawy’s wedding and recorded everything that happened turning it over to the NYPD for viewing.

Can you imagine your routine being recorded by police, your friends just being secret informants planted by the government, your place of worship telling you not to come too often, your worldview being stifled because you can’t talk about sensitive topics that can be mistaken for “extremism”?  Can you imagine all of this happening to you because of the way you worship?  Can you imagine this happening in America?

Hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslim New Yorkers can. They deserve a police force they can rely on to protect them – not one that treats them as suspect for no reason, but their religion.  This isn’t the first controversial program the NYPD has used, the stop and frisk program continues to be just as controversial as the surveillance program.  That program is under scrutiny because it unfairly targeted innocent African American and Hispanic individuals.

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