Terrorism Finance Laws Undermine Michigan Muslims' Religious Freedom, Says ACLU

June 16, 2009

U.S. terrorism finance laws and policies unfairly prevent Muslims around the nation from practicing their religion through charitable giving and undermine America’s diplomatic efforts in Muslim countries, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report released last night. The 164-page report, “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity,” is the first comprehensive report that documents the serious effects of Bush administration terrorism finance laws on Muslim communities, including those in Michigan.

“Without notice and through the use of secret evidence and opaque procedures, the Treasury Department has effectively closed down seven U.S.-based Muslim charities, including the formerly Michigan-based Goodwill Charitable Organization,” said Jennifer Turner, a researcher with the ACLU Human Rights Program and author of the report. “While terrorism financing laws are meant to make us safer, policies that give the appearance of a war on Islam only serve to undermine America’s diplomatic efforts just as President Obama reaches out to the Muslim world. These counter-productive practices alienate American Muslims who are key allies and chill legitimate humanitarian aid in parts of the world where charities’ good works could be most effective in winning hearts and minds.”

According to the report, for which the ACLU conducted 120 interviews with Muslim community leaders, donors and experts in several states including Michigan, federal law enforcement agents are engaging in practices that intimidate Muslim American donors, such as widespread interviews about their donations and surveillance of donations at mosques. Those interviewed say the government’s actions have a chilling effect on Muslim charitable giving, or Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims.

In Michigan, 33 individuals were interviewed in Metro Detroit and Flint each expressing their concern over the government’s questioning of Muslim donors, the raids of large U.S. Muslim charities and the consequent chilling effect on their participation in religious activities such as congregational Friday prayer, Eid celebrations at the conclusion of Ramadan, and other communal religious activities.

“America is known to the world as a beacon of religious freedom, yet many Muslims today cannot practice a central tenet of their faith, charity, because of the intimidation tactics used by the federal government,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “Rather than creating a climate of fear and intolerance, our government should work to ensure that terrorism financing policies are consistent with American values and our proud tradition and commitment to First Amendment freedoms. We can be safe and free and the U.S. can protect American Muslims’ religious freedom while simultaneously promoting national security and humanitarian aid.”

In his speech from Cairo on June 4, President Obama raised the issue of terrorism finance laws that have an adverse effect on Muslim giving. The ACLU report makes comprehensive recommendations to the Obama administration and Congress that are necessary to ensure terrorism financing policies are consistent with American values of due process and religious freedom.

“Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” is available online at aclu.org/muslimcharities.

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