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Muslim group to appeal ruling on police spying

Friday - 3/21/2014, 2:50pm  ET

SAMANTHA HENRY
Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- A group of Muslims from New Jersey is appealing a federal judge's ruling that determined that New York City Police Department's surveillance of Muslims did not violate their civil rights.

Attorneys from the groups Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a notice of appeal Friday in federal court in Newark, challenging the dismissal of a 2012 lawsuit brought by Muslim individuals and organizations who said the NYPD's programs constituted unconstitutional surveillance based on religion, national origin and race. The suit had accused the department of spying on ordinary people at mosques, restaurants and schools in New Jersey since 2002.

U.S. District Judge William Martini, in dismissing the suit last month, said that the NYPD's activities were part of a lawful effort to prevent terrorism. Martini said he was not persuaded that the plaintiffs were targeted solely because of their religion, writing that "the police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself."

Martini also said that Muslims had filed suit in reaction to a series of stories by The Associated Press that revealed the NYPD's secret activities.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said Martini's ruling could green-light discrimination by law enforcement.

"The district court's ruling gives legal sanction to targeted, religious discrimination by law enforcement without limitation," Baher Azmy, the legal director of The Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement. "The decision suggests that 9/11 justifies an exemption for Muslims in our Constitution. That ruling cannot stand."

Glenn Katon, the legal director of Muslim Advocates, a California-based civil rights organization, likened the case to other historic civil rights cases that required appeals of lower court rulings in order to "address systemic discrimination."

"These brave American Muslims are determined and ready to stand up for their rights and every American's right to equal treatment, regardless of faith," Katon said in a statement.

A spokesman for the city's Law Department, which represents the NYPD, declined to comment on the notice of appeal.

A similar lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn is still pending.

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