A group of imams suing US Airways for discrimination amended their lawsuit this week to target only the “John Doe” passengers who they say are racist and falsely accused them of behaving suspiciously.
The six imams were removed from a flight in Minneapolis in November for disruptive behavior reported by passengers and members of the flight crew.
The lawsuit filed earlier this month targeted “passengers who contacted US Airways to report the alleged ‘suspicious’ behavior of plaintiffs performing their prayer at the airport terminal.”
The amended lawsuit identifies possible John Does as individuals who “may have made false reports against plaintiffs solely with the intent to discriminate against them on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity and national origin.”
“The only individuals against whom suit may be raised in this litigation are those who may have knowingly made false reports against the imams with the intent to discriminate against them,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a letter this week to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm. The Becket Fund had publicly condemned CAIR for supporting the case.
“The imams will not sue any passengers who reported suspicious activity in good faith, even when the ‘suspicious’ behavior included the imams’ constitutionally protected right to practice their religion without fear or intimidation,” Mr. Nihad said. “When a person makes a false report with the intent to discriminate, he or she is not acting in good faith.”
The imams are being represented by New York lawyer Omar Mohammedi in the lawsuit, which has triggered an outcry among lawyers who say they will defend the “John Does” for free.
Becket Fund Chairman Kevin Hasson criticized the amended changes in a letter to CAIR on Thursday.
“There is no way Mr. Mohammedi can possibly determine whether the John Does ‘knowingly made false reports’ against his clients ‘with the intent to discriminate against them’ without taking their testimony under oath, at least during pretrial discovery,” Mr. Hasson said.
“That prospect alone, of being dragged into court proceedings, will certainly provide a great disincentive for other citizens to come forward with their own suspicions,” he said.
The case prompted House Republicans on Tuesday to insert a shield law for “John Does” into a rail safety bill. The legislation would protect passengers against lawsuits for reporting suspicious behavior that foreshadows a terrorist attack.
It is “unconscionable” that those who report suspicious activity could be “terrorized in our own court system in our own country,” said Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, who introduced the measure.
“Religious liberty is not absolute,” Mr. Hasson said. “It must yield before the government’s legitimately compelling interests. And the prevention of terrorism aboard airlines is certainly such an interest.”
The Becket Fund labeled the case “legal terrorism,” which Mr. Awad said “only adds to the empty and sensationalistic rhetoric of those who seek to disparage and demonize a segment of our society.”
“It was not meant as an insult,” Mr. Hasson said. “I think the public outcry over the targeting of the John Does proves the point I was trying to make. That legal tactic is self-defeating.”