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"Islam In New York: A Brief Survey Of Cases Since 9/11" by Robert W. Nicholson

Islam In New York:
A Brief Survey Of Cases Since 9/11

by Robert W. Nicholson

September 11, 2001, was a turning point for the Islamic world and the United States. That fateful day marked the end of cultural distance and the beginning of genuine interface between the two societies. How this interface manifested itself in the courts of New York is an interesting footnote in the wider history of law and society in the United States. It is also a relevant chapter in the story of law and religion in our secular legal system.

For many American citizens, September 11th was perceived as a tragedy perpetrated by Islam writ large. The fact that some Muslims around the world expressed satisfaction with the terrorist attacks unfortunately did not discourage this perception. For moderate American Muslims, however, September 11th was a day of collective despair. After decades of assimilation and participation in American society, they were suddenly seen as potential conspirators. For the American polity as a whole, the collision of airplanes into the World Trade Center brought a series of endless questions. Fundamental inquiries about the balance between individual freedoms and national security -- and, in particular, how we can respect the rights of the Islamic world without overlooking the threat of Islamic terrorism -- have emerged from this tragic event. In addition, debates about how America should engage the Islamic world -- namely, whether to do so by speaking softly or by carrying a big stick -- have arisen from the destruction on that fateful day 10 years ago.

While ordinary Americans could afford to debate these questions recklessly in their living rooms, American courts had to answer them with all the fairness and impartiality required of legal tribunals. The article that follows is a brief survey of some of the more interesting cases involving Islam that have appeared in New York State and federal courts since 2001. The cases do not by themselves expose any major jurisprudential trends, but taken as a whole they paint a compelling portrait of a secular legal system confronting and adapting to new religious and cultural realities.

National Security

The legal fallout from 9/11 was felt most deeply in the realm of security. Indeed, the attacks of al-Qaeda brought to the surface an inherent tension in the U.S. Constitution: that is, the clash between state power and individual rights. Although the Constitution protects American citizens from government intrusion, it also gives the government abundant authority to preserve the Republic. Balancing these two concerns became a full-time job after 9/11 when the United States declared war on Islamic extremists at home and abroad.

Part of this war called for investigating Muslim aliens living inside the United States. In the weeks and months immediately following 9/11, hundreds of Muslim aliens were swept up by federal and state law enforcement agencies trying to root out terrorist "sleeper" cells. Needless to say, many of those detained had no connection to terrorism whatsoever, and were held for months before being released. To say that their lives were impacted is to make a gross understatement.

In 2002, several Muslim aliens brought a class action lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and twenty-nine other public officials. Turkmen v. Ashcroft, 589 F.3d 542 (2d Cir. 2009). The plaintiffs alleged that they had been unlawfully detained after 9/11 for several months based merely on the fact that they were Muslims. The Immigration and Naturalization Service officially claimed that the men had been arrested for immigration violations. The plaintiffs, however, believed that the arrests were simply a means for indefinite detention while the FBI investigated their ties to terrorism. The plaintiffs openly acknowledged that they had been in the United States illegally at the time of their detention, but they nonetheless asserted their constitutional right to equal protection and due process. The plaintiffs additionally claimed that the conditions of their confinement were abusive and inhumane. See Id. 544-45.

The appellate stage in the Turkmen case is still ongoing as this article goes to press, but it already has spawned some important caselaw. At the trial level in 2006, Judge John Gleeson held that the government could detain members of specific classes of aliens indefinitely for any reason as long as their deportation is "reasonably foreseeable." Turkmen v. Ashcroft, 2006 WL 1662663, *38 (E.D.N.Y. 2006). Although Judge Gleeson remarked that such a policy would be highly unconstitutional if applied to American citizens, he noted that the federal government has broad powers over immigration and had acted within the scope of its mandate. See Turkmen at *39, 42. Gleeson dismissed those claims related to prolonged detention, but preserved those related to the conditions of confinement. (These are the claims that are still pending). See Id.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Gleeson's ruling on prolonged detention, but vacated and remanded so that the plaintiffs could amend their complaint adding new plaintiffs to the class and incorporating the new pleading standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal. Turkmen v. Ashcroft, 589 F.3d 542, 550 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009)).

The implications of this decision are clear. According to the Second Circuit, the federal government has the power to detain certain groups of noncitizens for extended periods of time for any reason whatsoever, regardless of the evidentiary basis. See Id. Muslim aliens living in the United States must understand that, as long as Islamic terrorism exists, their constitutional rights in the U.S. are rather limited.

Muslim aliens were given further notice of their precarious American existence in another case arising out of the Eastern District of New York. Arar v. Ashcroft, 585 F.3d 559 (2d Cir. 2009). In Arar, a Muslim alien sued several government officials under the Torture Victim Protection Act (28 U.S.C. §1350) and the Fifth Amendment, claiming that he was unlawfully detained and deported to Syria where he was tortured for more than a year. See 585 F.3d 563. The plaintiff, a dual citizen of Canada and Syria, had been making a flight connection at John F. Kennedy Airport when he was detained by federal agents based on a tip from Canadian law enforcement that the plaintiff was an al-Qaeda associate. Id. It later turned out that the plaintiff actually was not a terrorist. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants had violated his constitutional right to due process, his right to choose a country of removal where he would not be tortured (as per the Torture Victims Protection Act), and his rights under international human rights law. Id. The plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment and monetary damages for the statutory and constitutional violations. Id.

Out of this case arose the key question of whether extraordinary rendition -- that is, extradition of aliens to countries that use torture -- is a constitutional government policy. The Eastern District of New York did not reach this loaded question, deciding instead to dismiss the claim based on the plaintiff's lack of standing. See Arar v. Ashcroft, 414 F.Supp.2d 250 (E.D.N.Y.2006). Furthermore, the court found that the political question doctrine precluded judicial intervention in the matter. See Id.
The Eastern District's decision was upheld by a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and later by a rehearing en banc in the same court. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, the majority wrote, "[A]ny policy toward aliens is vitally and intricately interwoven with contemporaneous policies in regard to the conduct of foreign relations, the war power, and the maintenance of a republican form of government. Such matters are so exclusively entrusted to the political branches of government as to be largely immune from judicial inquiry or interference." Arar, 585 F.3d 559, 570 (quoting Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 588-89 (1952)). Again, the message to Muslim aliens living in the United States was sobering: If the government has reason to believe that you are connected with terrorism, you may very well end up in some awful prison halfway around the world.

Muslim aliens are not the only ones who can be deprived of their rights for national security's sake. In certain instances, American Muslims can also face such deprivations. In December 2004, Muslims from all across North America gathered in the Toronto Skydome for an annual conference called "Reviving the Islamic Spirit." Tabaa v. Chertoff, 509 F.3d 89 (2d Cir. 2007). The conference was a reportedly a moderate event, and its agenda was available to anyone who inquired. Id. at 94. Nevertheless, U.S. Customs and Border Protection instituted a terrorist-screening operation whereby its agents detained, interrogated, fingerprinted, and photographed attendees of the conference upon their crossing the border. Id. Five U.S. citizens were detained near Buffalo for several hours, during which time they were searched and questioned by border agents. Id. In April 2005, with the help of the NYCLU, the ACLU, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the five Americans filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security alleging that the detention policy violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights and their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. Id.

The suit was brought in the Western District of New York, where Judge William Skretny found the incident at the border "unfortunate" but "not unconstitutional" and granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Tabbaa v. Chertoff, 2005 WL 3531828 *1 (W.D.N.Y. 2005). "It is well settled," Skretny wrote, "that the government's interest in securing the nation against the entry of unwanted persons and things reaches its pinnacle at the border. It is for this reason that the government's authority to conduct routine searches and seizures at international crossings has long been recognized as plenary." Id.

The Second Circuit affirmed the district court decision, ruling that the DHS policy satisfied strict scrutiny analysis because the screening operation was sufficiently tailored to a compelling concern that terrorists might attend the conference. See Tabbaa, 509 F.3d 89, 105. The operation was also held to be the least restrictive means of addressing this concern. See Id. at 106.

In summary, post-9/11 caselaw tells us that life for a Muslim in New York -- citizen or noncitizen -- can be made quite difficult if one is suspected of terrorism. Although citizens enjoy far more rights than noncitizens, Muslims in both classes can be subjected to government searches and seizures if reasonable intelligence provides a basis for suspicion.

Employment Discrimination

Being a Muslim in the American workplace after 9/11 has not been easy. The same suspicions exhibited by the federal government are often exhibited on the job. Muslims with no connection to terrorism and, in some cases, to Islam, still find themselves under baseless scrutiny from bosses, co-workers, and even clients.

In one notable case, an Egyptian-American New York Police Department (NYPD) intelligence analyst brought a suit in the Southern District of New York against the City of New York and an NYPD counterterrorism consultant named Bruce Tefft. Doe v. City of New York, 583 F.Supp.2d 444 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). The plaintiff -- known in court papers only as "John Doe, Anti-Terrorism Officer" -- claimed that, as a mandatory subscriber to Tefft's counterterrorism listerv, he had been subjected to daily emails containing discriminatory remarks targeted at Arabs and Muslims. Id. at 446. Tefft, a long-time CIA officer, allegedly said things like, "Burning the hate-filled Koran should be viewed as a public service in the least," and cast suspicion on any Muslim serving in law enforcement. Id. The plaintiff filed suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, New York Executive Law § 290, and NYC Administrative Code §8-101. Id. Tefft moved to dismiss the claim based on lack of personal jurisdiction, an assertion of his First Amendment rights, and the plaintiff's failure to state a claim. Id.

The Southern District of New York denied Tefft's motion. The court found that it had personal jurisdiction based on Tefft's more than sufficient contacts with the state as a counterterrorism consultant. Id. at 447-48. With respect to Tefft's appeal to the First Amendment, the court found that his hostile emails constituted employment discrimination and thus were not to be considered protected speech. 583 F.Supp.2d at 447-48. Additionally, the plaintiff had stated a claim under section 1981 and satisfied the requirements for the state claims he had brought. Id. at 449-50. The court denied the motion, and allowed the lawsuit to continue. Id. It dragged on for several years before settling in early 2010. "Joe Doe" received a confidential, though certainly hefty, settlement from the NYPD, and the case went away.

Depending on their level of observance, some Muslims require special accommodations in the workplace for their physical appearance. Most common among these accommodations are those for facial hair and religious headgear. In one recent case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took up the cause of two Muslims who allegedly suffered religious discrimination at the hands of UPS when UPS failed to accommodate their wearing of a beard. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 587 F.3d 136 (2d Cir. 2009).

Plaintiff Bilal Abdullah alleged that he had interviewed at UPS's Rochester facility for the position of driver's helper, but had not been hired due to a discriminatory UPS policy that employees in public-contact positions must be clean-shaven below the lower lip. Id. at 137. (United Parcel Services, on the other hand, said that Abdullah had not been hired because he had provided a false Social Security number on his application). Plaintiff Muhammad Farhan had been a package handler at UPS's Dallas facility who had applied for a full-time driver position. Id. at 138. Farhan got the job, but was told he could not drive if he kept his beard. Id. Both Abdullah and Farhan filed complaints with the EEOC, which issued an administrative subpoena to UPS requesting all documents related to the company's appearance guideline and records of all employees who had requested religious accommodations for their appearance or been terminated for not adhering to the appearance guidelines. Id. UPS objected to the EEOC's request on the grounds that it did not have the information in any centralized location and did not even keep some of these records. Id. In November 2007, the EEOC filed a petition in the Western District of New York attempting to enforce the subpoena. 587 F.3d at 138. The court denied the petition, stating that the information sought was not relevant to the cases under investigation. Id.

The EEOC appealed to the Second Circuit, which reversed and remanded based on the district court's too-restrictive standard of "relevance." Id. at 139. Here, the court found the appearance guidelines very relevant for determining whether UPS was engaged in unlawful employment practices. Id. at 139-40. The court also declared that the EEOC had broad powers to issue these kinds of subpoenas, and had to meet only a very low threshold when seeking to enforce them. Id. at 140. As the court wrote, "the EEOC is not required to show that there is probable cause to believe that discrimination occurred or to produce evidence to establish a prima facie case of discrimination." Id.

In short, this holding allows the EEOC to compel employers to divulge company information for almost any reason. This ruling gives teeth to the EEOC's mandate to ensure employment equality, and it protects Muslims who request legitimate accommodations from their employers.

Family Law

National security and employment discrimination are not the only areas where New York courts have been called upon to contemplate Islam. They also have been asked to weigh in on more personal matters of marriage and child custody. For example, is a marriage solemnized by an imam in New Jersey without a valid marriage license recognized under New York law? In early 2008, the widow of a deceased Muslim man brought this personal status question into King's County Surrogate's Court. Matter of Farraj, 23 Misc.3d 1109(A)(Surr. Ct. Kings Cty. 2009).

The deceased man in this case, Daoud Farraj, had died intestate leaving a widow and five adult children from a previous marriage. One of his children, Saed Farraj, obtained letters of administration and proceeded to administer his father's estate. Not long afterward, the decedent's wife Rabaa Hanash petitioned for a compulsory accounting of the estate. Saed moved to dismiss Hanash's petition on the grounds that she was not the decedent's lawful spouse, and pointed to the fact that the couple had been married by an imam in New Jersey without a valid marriage license. Since New Jersey law required a license for a marriage to be recognized by law, Saed argued that Hanash's petition should be dismissed.

Hanash argued that New York law, and not New Jersey law, should control because she and her husband had been domiciled in New York, owned property in New York, and because the marriage had taken place in New Jersey only because Islamic law required it to occur at the residence of the bride's eldest male relative. She further argued that she and the decedent had held themselves out to be married and believed that their marriage ceremony had resulted in a valid marriage. New York law did not require a marriage license, she affirmed, and for this reason her petition for a compulsory accounting should be granted.

The Surrogate's Court agreed with her reasoning. In support of its decision, the Court cited New York's strong presumption favoring the validity of marriage. The Court also noted that not all marriages should be governed by the laws of the state in which the ceremony took place. As a general rule, "the state where the parties are domiciled has a strong interest in the marriage, even if it is not the state where the marriage occurred." Looking to the Second Restatement of Conflict of Laws, the Court found grounds for asserting its authority in determining the validity of the marriage here. Specifically, the Court decided to recognize the marriage based on a) the justified expectation of the parties, b) New York's strong public policy interest in validating the marriage of its domiciliaries over the enforcement of relatively minor technical requirements, and c) New Jersey's lack of substantial connection to the case. The Appellate Division's Second Department upheld the ruling on the same grounds. Matter of Farraj, 72 A.D.3d 1082 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep't 2010).

Conflict of laws issues are not always so benign. In one recent case, the Third Department of the New York State Appellate Division was called upon to challenge the ruling of a foreign Islamic court. Ahmad v. Naviwala, 306 A.D.2d 588 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep't 2003). In this case, an American Muslim mother filed a custody application in Broome County Family Court against her former husband, a resident of Saudi Arabia, for custody of their four children. Id. at 588-89. The couple had divorced in 1999, and had incorporated a sharia-consistent custody agreement into their divorce decree. Id. Under this agreement, the mother would retain custody of the children until a certain age after which sole custody would transfer to the father. Id. At all times, the noncustodial parent would be entitled to a continuous three-month visitation period each year. Id. However, when the father took the children back to Saudi Arabia for his first three-month visitation period, he kept them there and refused to bring them back. Id. In the meantime, he petitioned an Islamic court in Saudi Arabia for sole custody without notifying the mother. 306 A.D. 2d at 589. The Saudi court granted his petition. Id.

Two years later, the mother tracked the father and children down while they were vacationing in Texas. Id. Wielding an order from the Broome County Family Court, the mother succeeded in seizing the children and bringing them back to New York for a hearing. Id. There, the father testified that he had broken the custody agreement because the mother had failed to properly school the children. Id. He argued that his new wife was a worthy replacement for the mother, and claimed that his children were "thriving in the Muslim environment" of Saudi Arabia. Id. The children, for their part, expressed a desire to remain with their father. 306 A.D. 2d at 589. The mother testified that she had been prepared to abide by the negotiated custody agreement so long as she was able to retain her visitation rights. Id. She did not deny that the children's father cared for them, but opposed sole custody to him if it meant the children would live in Saudi Arabia. Id. at 590. In the end, the Family Court granted the father custody with various restrictions. Id.

The Third Department overturned this ruling, based on the father's flagrant disregard for American law. Id. at 591. The court noted that in cases where parties have entered into a custodial agreement, willful interference by one parent of the other parent's visitation rights raises a strong probability that the offending party is unfit to act as the custodial parent. Id. Because the father intended to permanently remove the children from the mother, granting him sole custody would be tantamount to rewarding contemptuous behavior. 306 A.D. 2d 591. In the eyes of the Third Department, "Family Court failed to fully appreciate the magnitude of [the father's] actions." Id. The father's act in obtaining an ex parte order from an Islamic court in Saudi Arabia and his efforts in concealing the children from their mother only underscored his supercilious behavior. Id. For these reasons, the Third Department awarded sole custody to the mother with very limited visitation rights for the father. Id.

In making this decision, the Court contravened not only the Saudi court and Broome County Family Court, but even the desires of the children themselves. It was a drastic decision, to be sure, but one that was intended to make a public statement: agreements made in American courts must be respected over the rulings of all other courts, end of discussion.

In another case, the family of a deceased Muslim man sued New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens and New York City's Chief Medical Examiner when the man received an autopsy against the principles of Islamic law. Juseinoski v. New York Hospital Med. Cntr. of Queens, 18 A.D.3d 713 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep't 2005). The man had been pronounced dead at Queens Medical Center after suffering a cardiac arrest at work. The man's family had come to the hospital shortly afterward, and his wife had allegedly informed the hospital staff that her husband was a Muslim and needed to be taken to a mosque. The staff had told her to return the next morning to claim the body, but when she did she discovered that it had been sent to the medical examiner's office for an autopsy. Since autopsies are prohibited under most interpretations of Islamic law, the family brought suit against the hospital and the attending physician for infliction of emotional distress and a violation of the Public Health Law. The hospital, meanwhile, brought a third-party action against the City Medical Examiner, the City Health Department, and the City of New York itself.

At the state Supreme Court level, the family was successful. There, the court granted the family's motion for summary judgment on the issue of the hospital's liability. Juseinoski v. New York Hospital Med. Cntr. of Queens, 3 Misc.3d 1106(A) (Sup. Ct. Kings Cty. 2004). On appeal to the Second Department of the state's Appellate Division, however, this decision was overturned. Specifically, the Second Department found that Public Health Law §4214(1) -- which prohibits a hospital from ordering an autopsy without written consent -- did not apply because the hospital had not actually ordered the autopsy. Since the autopsy had in fact been performed by the medical examiner, written consent was not required.

Still, the court allowed the lawsuit to continue based on triable issues of fact as to whether the hospital had knowledge of the plaintiff's objection to an autopsy. Juseinoski, 18 A.D.3d 713 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep't 2005). On remand, the state Supreme Court entered summary judgment for the medical examiner. The hospital appealed, and the Second Department found that summary judgment was premature due to outstanding questions of fact. Juseinoski, 29 A.D.3d 636 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep't 2006). Ultimately, the Court exculpated the medical examiner due to the absence of any triable issue of fact. Juseinoski, 45 A.D.3d 643 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep't 2007).

It seems the Public Health Law's imposition of an affirmative duty on hospitals to seek consent before performing an autopsy does not impose the same obligation on a county medical examiner. This loophole is a large one, and naturally of interest to Muslims who oppose autopsies on religious principle.

Prisoners' Rights

One major intersection between American law and Islam occurs in the realm of prisoner litigation. American prisons are home to an especially high concentration of Muslims, and it has been estimated that as many as 15-20% of prisoners adhere to the Islamic faith. This has presented numerous questions on the dispensing halal meals, the searching of Muslim visitors who wear religious clothing while visiting their incarcerated relatives in prison, and the celebration of certain religious holidays and services. Perhaps the most interesting legal question in recent years has been regarding the rights of Shi'ite prisoners to receive sect-specific prayer services apart from those of Sunni Muslims.

Islam is divided into two dominant theological traditions. The largest tradition is Sunni Islam, and its doctrine derives from the Quran and the traditional sayings of Muhammad. The second tradition, Shi'a Islam, is smaller and comprises only about 10-20% of the Islamic world. Shi'ite doctrine derives from the Quran and Muhammad's traditional sayings, just as Sunni doctrine does, but Shi'a Islam also holds many unique doctrines about the spiritual and political leadership of the Muslim community. It is not important to delve into the exact distinctions here, but only to assert that these distinctions are very important to Muslims on both sides.

In 2000, four Shi'ite inmates at Fishkill Correctional Facility brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) against the Commissioner of the N.Y. Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), the department's Ministerial Program Coordinator for Islamic Affairs, and seven other DOCS employees. Pugh v. Goord, 345 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2003). The plaintiffs sued for their constitutional and statutory rights to exercise Shi'a Islam freely and independently of the establishment of Sunni Islam. Id. at 123. They claimed that the Sunni imam at Fishkill was openly hostile to Shi'ite belief, and actively tried to convert Shi'ite prisoners to Sunni doctrine. Id. The plaintiffs argued that the failure of DOCS to establish a separate Friday prayer service for Shi'ites, independent of the Sunni hierarchy, thus violated their right to free exercise under section 1983 and the RLUIPA. Id. Their complaint sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Id.

The case wound its way through the New York federal courts for years, and was only one of several cases that considered the issue. In fact, earlier pro-Shi'a litigation had prompted DOCS to adopt a special protocol in 2001 to deal with sectarian tensions in the prison system. See Id. The protocol had been designed in consultation with prominent Islamic organizations in New York to meet the needs of Shi'ite inmates. See 345 F.3d 121. The protocol called for all DOCS chaplains to refrain from disparaging other doctrines or faiths, and affirmed that DOCS would seek guidance from Shi'a authorities in arranging texts and religious education for Shi'ite inmates. See Id. It also provided that Shi'ites would have all the same rights as other groups to attend sect-specific religious classes. See Id. However, the protocol repeated the standard DOCS policy of holding a single Friday prayer service for every Muslim in each facility. See Id.

New York State maintained then and now that it has already made far-reaching concessions to Shi'ite demands. Shi'ite inmates currently receive special religious classes, special dietary accommodations, and a Shi'ite chaplain who can appropriately minister to them. They are also able to celebrate separate Shi'ite holidays. In light of these concessions, DOCS does not believe a separate Shi'ite prayer service is necessary. Furthermore, a Shi'ite can properly satisfy his prayer obligations by praying alone in his cell. Instituting an additional Friday prayer service might therefore not only be costly, but also completely needless.

In all pro-Shi'a litigation, New York courts have favored the state's arguments that space considerations, security concerns, and budgetary limitations provide a legitimate penological justification for not holding separate services. Still, courts have expressed a desire to accommodate Shi'ite beliefs as much as possible.

The issue has been further complicated by recent evidence that members of the Sunni hierarchy inside DOCS may be tied to extremist circles. In 2009, four Muslim men were arrested for plotting to blow up a Bronx synagogue. See Javier C. Hernandez and Sewell Chan, N.Y. Bomb Plot Suspects Acted Alone, N.Y. TIMES, May 21, 2009. Upon investigation, it was found out that two of them had converted to Islam while under the leadership of the same Sunni cleric/DOCS employee who was listed as a defendant in the Pugh case. See, e.g., Sewell Chan and Nate Schweber, Updates in Terror Plot, N.Y. TIMES, City Room Blog, May 21, 2009, http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/police-detail-disruption-of-terror-plot/ (last visited August 8, 2011). Perhaps the Shi'ite allegations of Sunni coercion were not so far-fetched after all.

Although at present the courts are favoring the DOCS policy of unified prayer services, it seems likely that this issue will not be going away anytime soon. The broader question is how New York State will administer its Islamic programs fairly and securely in the face of a burgeoning and often divided Muslim prison population.


This survey is admittedly brief and does not claim to cover all New York State cases involving Islam since 9/11. However, it does give an interesting cross-section of caselaw illustrating how courts have approached questions of Islam, individual Muslims, and Muslim identity. On the whole, courts respect Muslim beliefs just as they do any other religious beliefs. At the same time, the unique landscape of a post-9/11 world has forced courts to respond to new controversies over national security issues which stem largely from a handful of radical Muslims living both inside and outside the United States. On a deeper level, these cases demonstrate how courts are adjusting new social realities in the United States that did not exist even a decade ago. As the American Muslim population continues to grow, it will be interesting to watch the courts further refine their legal approach to this increasingly influential and vocal segment of society in the United States.

Robert Nicholson is a third-year law student at Syracuse University who is also working toward an M.A. in the legal and diplomatic history of the Middle East. He currently works as a Research Assistant for the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, studying the compatibility of Islamic law with the international laws of war.

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