People For the American Way Foundation

PFAW Foundation Supreme Court Brief: Discrimination Against Muslims is “Very Clearly Illegal”

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People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) joined with Americans United for Separation of Church and State this week in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in an important Supreme Court case concerning religious discrimination, a case made even more important because of its echoes in current events and proposals.

The case, Ziglar v. Abbasi, was brought by Arab Muslim men who were arrested, placed in solitary confinement, beaten, and tortured in the US after the 9/11 attacks. They claim that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other officials are liable because the officials specifically singled out Arab Muslims for this mistreatment. A federal appeals court agreed that the case can go forward, and the Supreme Court is to decide the officials’ claim that they have “qualified immunity” from the lawsuit because the illegality of their conduct was not “clearly established” at the time it occurred.

Our brief answers that claim with a resounding no. In particular, we explain that such discrimination and mistreatment against Muslims, or against anyone else based on their religion, is very clearly illegal based on established precedent. The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, the brief explains, “prohibit the government from singling out a religious group for official disfavor—much less for detention, abuse, and torture.”

As our brief points out, the issues in the case are particularly important in light of the recent rise in anti-Muslim  harassment and discrimination that our nation has experienced – treatment that becomes “all the more intolerable” when sponsored or sanctioned by government. Not only is it important that these victims be able to seek a judicial remedy, the brief explains, but it is also “paramount that this Court send a strong message that official disfavor and the meting out of punishment on the basis of belief with respect to religion are antithetical to our constitutional order.” 

The Supreme Court is set to hear argument in the case this January 18—two days before the inauguration of President-Elect Trump. You can read the brief here.

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