The Supreme Courtroom says that Muslims who’re on the no-fly listing can sue FBI brokers

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of three Muslim men who said they were placed on or kept on the government’s no-fly list in retaliation for refusing to serve as terrorist informants for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The court wrote in a unanimous opinion from Judge Clarence Thomas that Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah and Naveed Shinwari can sue individual FBI agents for monetary damages under a federal law protecting religious practices.

Thomas wrote in the brief statement that the law to restore religious freedom “may allow litigants in their individual capacity to receive monetary damages from federal officials.” Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the newest member of the court, was not involved in the case.

The case was one of four ruled on Thursday morning, one of the first rulings in the current term to end later this summer. All cases were decided unanimously. The court took no action on two Republican challenges related to the 2020 election, including Texas efforts to undo the loss of President Donald Trump in four battlefield states.

Tanvir, Algibhah and Shinwari argued in court that the FBI had told them that they could only be removed from the government’s no-fly list if they “served as government spies in their religious communities.”

The men said they had been approached by FBI special agents and pressured to provide information on other Muslims. Each of the men initially answered the agents’ questions truthfully, wrote their lawyer Ramzi Kassem in court files, but “none of the men wanted to serve as an informant in their Muslim community, also because it was against their religious convictions.”

“Instead of accepting this refusal, the FBI agents persisted – in some cases threatening individual respondents with deportation and arrest, and in other cases offering financial incentives and assistance in immigrating family members to the US,” wrote Kassem.

“In either case, the agents relied on what they believed was the irresistible compulsion of the no-fly list,” he added.

After the three men were sued, they were finally told that they were no longer on the list. However, they continued to press for monetary damages, saying they “have been banned from flying sometimes while on their way to visit family members or start a new job, or on their way home from a trip abroad to see them overseas to be stranded. “”

Inclusion on the secret no-fly list monitored by the FBI prevents anyone from getting on a plane flying to, from, or over the United States. The size of the list has grown dramatically since the September 11, 2001 attacks and, according to some reports, includes more than 80,000 names.

The legal issue in the present case was whether RFRA would allow individuals whose religious practice had been incriminated by the government to sue individual government employees for monetary damages. The law itself says that someone whose rights have been violated “can get adequate relief against a government”.

A federal district court ruled that RFRA would not allow such monetary damage, but the U.S. 2nd appeals court overturned that decision. The government asked the court to reverse the appeals court’s decision, arguing that a decision in favor of Muslim men could place undue strain on the functioning of federal agencies.

Former Attorney General Noel Francisco, who has since returned to private practice, wrote in a letter that damages “will be a powerful incentive for potential plaintiffs to sue federal employees at all levels of decision-making, which affects the business of the government more generally”.

“For example, prison officials are charged with considering the religious practices of approximately 180,000 federal inmates while balancing the needs of prisoners against the demands of prison security,” wrote Francisco.

Francisco also argued that the interpretation of RFRA to account for monetary damage posed a constitutional problem of separation of powers.

The Supreme Court rejected the government’s reasoning. Thomas wrote that if lawmakers believed it would be a better policy to protect government employees from harm, “Congress is free to do so. But there is no constitutional reason why we should do so in its place.”

“Compensation for damages is not just ‘reasonable’ relief given the lawsuit against government employees,” wrote Thomas. “It is also the only form of relief that can fix some RFRA violations,” he added, citing “wasted airline tickets”.

Following the ruling, Kassem, a professor in New York University Law School, stated in a statement that the court “had affirmed the courageous stance of our clients for their religious freedom as Muslims who would not spy on their own beliefs.” . “

“The court’s unanimous decision also sends a clear message to FBI agents that they should think twice before abusing the power to put people on the no-fly list,” he said.

Religious freedom groups welcomed the court’s decision.

“We’re glad the Supreme Court has unanimously stated that the government cannot expect to be let off the hook by simply changing its mind at the last minute,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket nonprofit. “This is a good decision that will make it easier to hold the government accountable for violating Americans’ religious freedoms.”

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is Tanzin v. Tanvir, numbers 19-71.

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