The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments Monday whether the U.S. government can invoke the protection of “state secrets” to withhold information about its surveillance of Muslims at mosques in California.
The dispute began a decade ago when three Muslim men filed suit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation, alleging the top U.S. law enforcement agency deployed a confidential informant who claimed to be a convert to Islam to spy on them based solely on their religious identity.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the practice of one’s religion.
But the government is claiming in this case that it can refuse to disclose information about its surveillance under authority granted it by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as its use of the state secrets privilege defense, which allows the government to block the release of information it considers to be a risk to national security.
The three Muslim men, Yassir Fazaga, Ali Malik and Yasser AbdelRahim, have argued that the use of the surveillance law violated their religious rights and allowed the government to avoid accountability.
Patrick Toomey, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU National Security Project, told reporters last week, “This case has significant implications for cases where the executive branch asserts state secrets privilege in an effort to foreclose accountability for other types of illegal government conduct, especially in the two decades since 9/11,” when al-Qaida terrorists attacked the U.S., killing nearly 3,000 people.
Muslims in California said they reported the FBI’s own informant in the case to the agency after the informant began asking people about “violent jihad.”
Hussam Ayloush, a Muslim leader in the Los Angeles area, said Muslims in the U.S. “are hoping to shed light on how a government and federal agency that is charged with protecting us all continues its attempt to treat Muslims as second-class citizens.”
“The outcome of this case will impact every American, not just Muslims,” Ayloush said. “Can you be spied on by the government simply because of how you choose to worship?”