Lib­erty ad­vo­cates back ‘John Does’ in imams’ law­suit

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Au­drey Hud­son

A re­li­gious-free­dom ad­vo­cacy group on Aug. 1 asked a fed­eral court to dis­miss a law­suit against air­line pas­sen­gers who re­ported sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior of a group of Mus­lim imams that re­sulted in their re­moval from a US Air­ways flight.

The am­i­cus brief by the Becket Fund for Re­li­gious Lib­erty in the U.S. Dis­trict Court of Min­nesota was filed on be­half of “John Doe” pas­sen­gers who are in­cluded in a law­suit against the air­line and the Min­neapo­lis Metropoli­tan Air­ports Com­mis­sion.

“The case against the John Does should be dis­missed be­cause no law could or should be con­strued to pun­ish them for re­port­ing a pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist at­tack to air­line au­thor­i­ties,” the Becket Fund, a non­profit le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion that lit­i­gates re­li­gious-lib­erty cases, said in the court fil­ing.

“Th­ese cit­i­zens at­tempted to pro­tect them­selves, their loved ones, and their fel­low pas­sen­gers. For this, they are dragged into fed­eral court and threat­ened with hu­mil­i­a­tion, ex­pense, and li­a­bil­ity,” the pa­pers said. “This ha­rass­ment is noth­ing less than le­gal ter­ror­ism — an at­tempt to change pub­lic be­hav­ior by threat­en­ing to im­pov­er­ish and de­stroy at ran­dom the lives of those whom plain­tiffs see as their en­e­mies. Th­ese claims should not be en­ter­tained.”

In re­sponse to the law­suit, law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill two weeks ago passed a mea­sure giv­ing air­line pas­sen­gers le­gal im­mu­nity from be­ing sued for re­port­ing sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior. Pres­i­dent Bush said he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can Is­lamic Re­la­tions (CAIR), said he “does not think this leg­is­la­tion would pre­vent that law­suit be­cause there is a good faith pro­vi­sion in the leg­is­la­tion.”

“And to de­ter­mine whether the re­ports are made in good faith, you might still have to ask them in a court of law,” Mr. Hooper said on MSNBC.

The men prayed loudly be­fore board­ing the Novem­ber flight from Min­neapo­lis to Phoenix, formed seat­ing pat­terns that of­fi­cials said mir­rored those of the Septem­ber 11 hi­jack­ers, asked for un­needed seat-belt ex­ten­ders and crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Bush and the war in Iraq.

The imams said they were vic­tims of dis­crim­i­na­tion be­cause they prayed be­fore the flight. They are ask­ing for an un­spec­i­fied amount of dam­ages.

“We have never be­fore in our his­tory op­posed any­one else’s claim of re­li­gious free­dom,” the Becket Fund said in the court pa­pers. “Nev­er­the­less, we are ap- palled at the tac­tics em­ployed in this case.”

“The plain­tiffs should not at­tempt — nor should this court per­mit them — to hi­jack fed­eral courts to make an es­sen­tially po­lit­i­cal state­ment,” the court pa­pers said.

Omar Mo­hammedi, the imams’ at­tor­ney, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. A sec­ond at­tor­ney for the imams told Judge Ann Mont­gomery dur­ing a July 31 hear­ing, “We don’t con­tem­plate nam­ing any private pas­sen­ger as a de­fen­dant,” KSTP-TV in Min­neapo­lis re­ported.

Ger­ard Nolt­ing, the lawyer who rep­re­sents one of the “John Doe” pas­sen­gers, called the state­ment “mean­ing­less and disin­gen­u­ous” be­cause “to­mor­row they may con­tem­plate adding the pas­sen­gers” by name.

“If they name my client, I will fight them tooth and nail,” Mr. Nolt­ing said.

The hear­ing was to amend the com­plaint to add US Air­ways em­ploy­ees as in­di­vid­ual de­fen­dants. A mo­tion to dis­miss the case is set for Aug. 21.

As­so­ci­ated Press

A Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion agent runs checked bag­gage through a x-ray ma­chine at Ge­orge Bush In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Air­port in Hous­ton. Air­port se­cu­rity of­fi­cers around the na­tion have been alerted to look out for ter­ror­ists prac­tic­ing to carry ex­plo­sive com­po­nents onto air­craft, based on four curious seizures at air­ports since last Septem­ber.

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