Rights groups want White House framework banning monitoring of Muslims

Rights groups want White House framework banning monitoring of Muslims
© Getty Images

More than two dozen civil liberties and human rights groups on Friday pressed the White House to make sure anti-terrorism efforts don’t infringe on people’s ability to freely practice their religion in peace.

Especially given the “current climate of scapegoating and anti-Muslim bigotry,” the groups wrote, the Obama administration should be sure to implement policies making it difficult for a future president to use current policies to monitor Muslims.

“It is all too easy to imagine a subsequent administration seizing on CVE [countering violent extremism] programs that are now in development as vehicles for systematic and large-scale profiling, patrolling and surveillance of American Muslim and communities presumed to be Muslim,” the 27 organizations wrote in the letter to White House counterterrorism adviser Jen Easterly.

Many rights groups have routinely been concerned about CVE programs, which aim to prevent violent extremism by encouraging teachers and community leaders to discuss ways that people become radicalized. Critics worry that the programs quickly amount to having people spy on their neighbors, and allow police to use schools, community centers and religious institutions to gather intelligence.   

“Among our concerns is that law enforcement may use CVE as a pretext for intelligence gathering and other activities that treat entire communities as suspect,” the groups wrote Friday.

Rights advocates have been outraged at suggestions by Republican presidential candidates Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE that law enforcement officials should monitor mosques and Muslim communities. 

On the heels of the terrorist attacks in Brussels last month, Cruz said that the U.S. should “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

The Obama administration has advocated for CVE-style programs, but has so far refrained from the kind of federal guidance for which the rights groups have advocated.

The organizations say that the White House should issue a federal framework for which kinds of policies to avoid, that could be implemented by federal, state and local agencies.

“[A]ppropriate strategies would treat communities holistically and address a range of needs and social problems, rather than through the singular lens of national security or law enforcement,” they wrote.

Among the groups signing Friday’s letter were Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations and the Brennan Center for Justice.