LOS ANGELES - In an effort to calm the fears of worshipers, several Southern California area organizations and their leaders filed a Freedom of Information Act request today seeking answers from the FBI about suspected monitoring of religious institutions.
The ACLU of Southern California filed the request on behalf of six groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and area mosques, and six leaders in the Muslim community. The government has so far refused to explain repeated news reports describing FBI surveillance of mosques and numerous personal accounts from worshipers who were questioned about their faith at home and at work.
'We are people of faith and our mosques are peaceful and tolerant places of worship,' said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council. 'But people are being scared away from worship because of reports that mosques and those who pray at them are being monitored. People are afraid that practicing their religion or even visiting a mosque will make them a suspect of the government.'
The government has 20 business days to respond to this request, which seeks information pertaining to whether area mosques and community leaders are being monitored and if so, why, said Ranjana Natarajan, staff attorney for the ACLU/SC.
"We firmly believe that mosques are peaceful places of worship and we will continue to meet with law enforcement officials and cooperate in legitimate law enforcement investigations," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR. "However, it is our right to expect transparency from our government.'
The ACLU has filed FOIA requests in 20 states on behalf of more than 150 organizations and individuals including advocates for the environment, animal rights, labor, religion, Native American rights, fair trade, grassroots politics, peace, social justice, nuclear disarmament, human rights and civil liberties. So far the government has released documents that reveal FBI monitoring and infiltration by the FBI and local law enforcement, targeting political, environmental, anti-war and faith-based groups around the country.