US Supreme Court Allows 3 Muslim Men to Sue FBI Agents in ‘No Fly’ Case

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that three Muslim men who were put on the U.S. government’s no-fly list for allegedly refusing to serve as FBI informants could sue FBI agents for monetary damages.Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, a staunch champion of religious liberty, wrote the majority opinion, saying the men may sue the agents in their personal capacity under a 1993 religious freedom law.FILE – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivers a speech in Atlanta, Feb. 11, 2020.The law, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, allows litigants “to obtain money damages against federal officials in their individual capacities,” Thomas wrote in the 11-page opinion.The ruling was the latest in a string of decisions in support of religious freedom handed down by the conservative-controlled Supreme Court.The newest member of the court, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, did not participate in the case as it was argued before she was sworn in last month.Muslim American civil rights advocates hailed the ruling.“Today’s unanimous #SCOTUS decision is a victory for American Muslims and all people of faith,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations tweeted. “We can, should and must continue to hold government agents fully responsible for engaging in religious discrimination.Congratulations to @CUNY_CLEAR! Today’s unanimous #SCOTUS decision is a victory for American Muslims and all people of faith. We can, should and must continue to hold government agents fully responsible for engaging in religious discrimination. #RFRA#SCOTUS— CAIR National (@CAIRNational) December 10, 2020The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.The three Muslim men behind the case, Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari, sued top government officials and 25 FBI and Homeland Security agents in 2014. They claimed that they were put or kept on the no-fly list after refusing repeated FBI entreaties to spy on their religious communities. They said doing so would have violated their religious beliefs.The list, created after the attacks of 9/11, includes the names of thousands of people who are barred from boarding commercial flights in the United States. Rights groups have repeatedly sued the government over the list, saying otherwise innocent individuals have been swept up in the dragnet.In their lawsuit, the three men claimed that the government violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law prohibits the government from placing a “substantial burden” on individuals’ exercise of religion.The plaintiffs asked a court to order the Department of Homeland Security to remove their names from the no-fly list and sought financial compensation for lost income and tickets they could no longer use.The Department of Homeland Security removed their names from the list after the lawsuit was filed. But a federal court dismissed their claims for compensation in 2016, ruling that they could not sue individual FBI agents in their personal capacity. An appellate court then reversed the ruling. The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s ruling.The men reacted to the Supreme Court decision with relief.“It is a soaring feeling,” Tanvir said in a statement released by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the three men before the Supreme Court. “I made my life in this country, so this is important not just for me, but for everybody. I don’t want the same thing that the FBI did to me to happen to others.”  

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