Washington: Civil rights lawyers urged a US judge to declare the New York Police Department`s widespread spying programme directed at Muslims to be unconstitutional, order police to stop their surveillance and destroy any records in police files.
In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the lawyers said the spying has hindered the ability of residents to freely practice their religion. It is the third significant legal action filed against the department`s Muslim surveillance programme since details of the spy programme were revealed in a series of Associated Press reports in 2011 and 2012.
The lawsuit said that Muslim religious leaders in New York have modified their sermons and other behaviour so as not to draw additional police attention. The suit was filed against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and the Deputy Commissioner of intelligence, David Cohen.
The lawsuit, which accuses the city of violating the First and Fourteenth amendments of the US Constitution, is the latest legal challenge to the activities of the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department or NYPD.
A year ago, the California-based civil rights organisation Muslim Advocates sued the NYPD over its counterterrorism programmes.
Earlier this year, civil rights lawyers urged a judge to stop the NYPD from routinely observing Muslims in restaurants, bookstores and mosques, saying the practice violates a landmark 1985 court settlement that restricted the kind of surveillance used against war protesters in the 1960s and `70s.
"Through the Muslim Surveillance Program, the NYPD has imposed an unwarranted badge of suspicion and stigma on law-abiding Muslim New Yorkers, including plaintiffs in this action," according to the complaint, which was filed in federal court in Brooklyn on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques, and a charitable organisation.
The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project at CUNY School of Law and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a phone call and email asking for comment.
The lawsuit describes a pattern of NYPD spying directed at Muslims in New York since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
One of the plaintiffs, Hamid Hassan Raza, said he began taping his sermons at a Brooklyn mosque because of concerns that the NYPD was monitoring what he said and would take his words out of context.
In addition, Raza and other religious leaders became highly suspicious of new members eager to join their communities because of the department`s rampant use of secret informants, the complaint said.