Gov’t Monitoring of Muslim Sites Raises Concern about Religious Liberties

A recent report of classified federal investigations for nuclear radiation at Muslim sites, including mosques, homes and businesses around the country has raised concerns about religious liberty. Government officials say monitoring is legally justified and does not target specific groups.

The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said on Monday that searching religious sites without probable cause or search warrants is government intimidation, and called for the Bush Administration and Congress to reverse its “unjust policy and protect religious freedom.”

“One of our nation's greatest strengths is that we provide a safe harbor for people of all faith traditions and religious views without the threat of government intimidation,” said Mahoney.

“They cannot have it both ways,” he added. “They cannot proclaim to the world that America is committed to protecting religious liberty while at the same time supporting a policy that allows monitoring places of worship and the gathering of intelligence without probable cause.”

The U.S. News & World report released last Friday indicated that since 2002, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) monitored nearly 120 mostly-Muslim sites per day in Washington, D.C., alone at its peak level of activity.

There were similar operations in Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York, and Seattle, according to anonymous sources concerned about the legality of the program, the report stated. No nuclear weapons or “dirty bombs” had been found. The sources that provided information for the U.S. News report were anonymous.

A Muslim civil liberties group CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) said in a news release on Tuesday that it would ask officials to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act regarding the specific locations that were targeted by government monitors. The group was concerned that Muslims were being targeted because of their faith.

"We are concerned that, under this secretive program, our government has overstepped constitutional bounds by intruding on private property without any probable cause or valid court orders, said CAIR National Legal Director Arsalan Iftikhar. “The targeting of so many Islamic homes, businesses and mosques will inevitably create the impression that American Muslims are considered suspect solely because of their faith."

A U.S. News source indicated that Muslims were not being specifically targeted.

"We categorically do not target places of worship or entities solely based on ethnicity or religious affiliation," said the source. "Our investigations are intelligence driven and based on a criminal predicate."

The FBI and NEST have been approaching various Muslim sites and in 15 percent of the cases, private property such as mosque parking lots and private driveways were approached to take readings of nuclear radiation, according to the report. A source told U.S. News that almost all the targets were U.S. citizens.

"A lot of us thought it was questionable, but people who complained nearly lost their jobs,” the same source said. “We were told it was perfectly legal."

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse told the Associated Press that the investigations were legal and were being taken to protect against threats of terrorism.

The government "monitors the air for imminent threats to health and safety," acting only on specific information about a possible attack without targeting a group or individual, he said.

"FBI agents do not intrude across any constitutionally protected areas without the proper legal authority,” Roehrkasse added.

Government officials told U.S. News that warrants were not needed for monitoring public property, including publicly accessible driveways and parking lots.

“If a delivery man can access it, so can we,” said one source.