The American Civil Liberties Union called on the Justice Department on Thursday to investigate the efforts by the New York City Police Department to conduct surveillance in Muslim communities.
In a letter signed by 125 state and national organizations, the ACLU and the other groups said the Justice Department's civil rights division to open a probe into the "unlawful religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslims in New York City and beyond."
"Putting a class of Americans under surveillance based on their religion is a clear violation of our Constitution's guarantees of equality and religious freedom," said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. "The NYPD's surveillance program has stigmatized Muslims as suspect and had deeply negative effects on their free speech, association and religious practice."
Citing NYPD documents and an investigative series of articles on the NYPD's secret intelligence operations by the Associated Press, the ACLU said that the New York police have sent paid infiltrators into mosques, student associations and other locations to take photos, write down license-plate numbers and keep notes on people because they are Muslim.
The ACLU also said NYPD officers and informants have "built a program dedicated to suspicionless blanket surveillance of Muslims in the greater New York City area," routinely monitoring restaurants, bookstores and mosques.
Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said she could not comment on the letter because she had not seen it yet. A police spokesman said the department could not provide an immediate comment.
The ACLU letter was signed by a wide array of religious, racial justice, civil rights and community based organizations, including the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the National Network for Arab American Communities.
"In America, law enforcement should never turn anyone's First Amendment-protected religious beliefs into cause for suspicion, and yet evidence shows that's exactly what the New York Police Department is doing to Muslim New Yorkers," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and a pastor at the Baptist Northminster Church in Monroe, La.
"The fact that people of faith might have to fear going to their houses of worship or freely practicing their religion is about as un-American as un-American gets," Gaddy said.