A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticizes federal terrorism financing laws for undermining the ability of Muslims to practice their constitutional rights of worship and association. The civil liberties organization says that post-9-11 terrorism finance laws' vagueness combined with government intimidation have scared away Muslims from giving alms, a central pillar of the Islamic faith, reports the Associated Press.
It concluded that federal policies have made Muslims afraid they could face criminal prosecution if they gave to a charity without realizing it was under suspicion — even if they only wanted to aid victims of natural disasters, [Jennifer] Turner [the author of the ACLU report] said.
"The law is unclear. When you approach the federal government, the government has not reassured them nor given them guidelines to how to comply with the law," she said.
The Treasury Department denies targeting donors and says it is working to refine the guidance it gives to charities and potential donors.
"We're increasing our engagement with the charitable community to help them protect against terrorist abuse of charity," spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth said in an e-mail.
In the aftermath of 9-11, the Bush administration went after Muslim charities believed to be terrorist sponsors. Seven Muslim charities were shut down by the government while two others were closed after government raids, according to the AP.
The ACLU charges that the Bush administration shut down charities without a hearing, using weak or secret evidence, violating the charities' right to due process. The government could also seize charities' assets "pending an investigation," the rights group says.
The most high-profile case, however, was the Holy Land Foundation investigation, which ended last month when a federal judge sentenced five members of the charity to prison for aiding the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas. The Holy Land Foundation no longer exists.
The ACLU is calling on the Obama administration to make changes to terrorism finance laws that violate Muslim-Americans' right to freely practice their religion, noting that during his speech in Cairo earlier this month, Obama said "in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation." He added, "That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat."
For the ACLU report Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity, click here.
Photo of oriental rug depicting zakat by taromeet/Flickr