By: Prema Rahman, MPAC Policy Analyst
On November 8th, the Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Fazaga case will appear before the U.S. Supreme Court. The plaintiffs in this case, Yassir Fazaga, Ali Uddin Malik, and Yasser Abdelrahim, are challenging the government’s invocation of “state secrets” privilege to dismiss the plaintiffs’ federal class action lawsuit against the FBI for targeting, infiltrating, and surveilling major mosques in Southern California. The “state secrets” privilege has thus far allowed the FBI to escape accountability for discriminating against the American Muslim mosque communities by asserting that whether or not the plaintiffs’ accusations are true is a state secret. Have no doubt, the sacrifice of First Amendment rights in the name of national security should absolutely worry each and every American. And that is exactly why the SCOTUS verdict on this case will be critical for our nation.
Religious freedom is at the heart of FBI v. Fazaga: should the FBI or any government entity be able to target and surveil entire communities on the basis of their faith for the sake of national security? In short, no. But it’s worth exploring the longer answer here. The rights and liberties protected under the U.S. Constitution form the foundation of America. As with any foundation, this, too, must be unshakeable. At no point should the American government violate the Bill of Rights, not even to protect national security. If it does, it must be held accountable. Failure to do so will set a dangerous precedent for government overreach and abuse of power.
In the post-9/11 era, American Muslims have repeatedly become victims of FBI’s discriminatory practices and have seen their First Amendment rights violated time and time again. But American Muslims are not the first group to be targeted under the pretext of national security. Under Executive Order 9066, during World War II, the U.S. government forcibly uprooted Japanese Americans from their homes and put them in internment camps. All in the name of national security. Sooner or later, the normalization of these practices will impact every American.
What will be the likely verdict on this case, then?
With a conservative supermajority amongst our current Supreme Court justices, realistically speaking, the likelihood for the SCOTUS to rule in favor of the three American Muslim plaintiffs is slim. We must also remember the Korematsu v. United States decision, in which the SCOTUS infamously upheld the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast Military Area (thus justifying the use of Japanese internment camps). The odds are not in our favor. If the court does rule against the plaintiffs, however, the verdict will confirm that Americans are at the mercy of the government when it comes to matters of national security. And that is not a black or white, left or right issue. It’s one that concerns all Americans.
MPAC has dedicated over three decades to protecting the rights and liberties of American Muslims, and our work is guided by the principles of justice and equity. Even if the Supreme Court’s verdict upholds the FBI’s invocation of the “state secrets” principle and dismisses the blatant violation of First Amendment rights, we will not accept defeat or resign our efforts. We will continue our advocacy with the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government to build meaningful safeguards against government surveillance and targeting.