Three Muslim Americans have filed suit alleging that US border officers questioned them about their religious beliefs in violation of their constitutional rights when they returned from international travel.
The three men, who are from Minnesota, Texas and Arizona, south Department of Homeland Security officials in a federal court in Los Angeles. The lawsuit was filed in California because some of the questioning allegedly occurred at Los Angeles International Airport.
In the lawsuit, the men say that US border officers at land crossings and international airports peppered them with questions about whether they were Muslim and attended a mosque and how often they prayed.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the men, said the questioning violated the men’s constitutional rights to freedom of religion and protection against unequal treatment.
“Just as border officers may not single out Christian Americans to ask what denomination they are, which church they attend, and how regularly they pray, singling out Muslim Americans for similar questions is unconstitutional,” the lawsuit said.
It asks a judge to declare that the religious questioning was unconstitutional and to order US government agencies to expunge records containing information obtained through the questioning of the men.
A message left with Department of Homeland Security seeking comment about the lawsuit was not immediately returned.
The plaintiffs include Abdirahman Aden Kariye, an imam at a mosque in Bloomington, Minn. The lawsuit said he was questioned about his faith at least five different times when returning to the country between 2017 and 2022.
The repeated questioning caused Kariye stress and led him to stop wearing a Muslim cap known as a kufi and to stop carrying religious texts when he travels internationally, to avoid additional scrutiny, the lawsuit said.
Another plaintiff, Hameem Shah of Plano, Texas, said he was returning in 2019 from a vacation to Serbia and Bosnia when he was pulled aside at LAX for additional screening.
Officers separated him from other travelers and started reading his personal journal despite his protests and asked him whether he had traveled in the Middle East, saying they wanted to make sure he was a “safe person,” the lawsuit said.
They also asked him about his religious beliefs and practices and searched his phone despite his opposition and released him two hours later, the lawsuit said.
“I thought that being an American meant that I and others are free to practice any religion that we choose,” Shah said in a statement, adding that the airport experience still haunts him.