CLEVELAND- U.S. terrorism finance laws and policies unfairly prevent Muslims in Ohio and around the nation from practicing their religion through charitable giving and undermine America’s diplomatic efforts in Muslim countries, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report out late last night. The 164-page report, “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity,” is the first comprehensive report that documents the serious effects of Bush administration terrorism finance laws on Muslim communities, including those in Toledo and other Ohio cities.
“Without notice and through the use of secret evidence and opaque procedures, the Treasury Department has effectively closed down seven U.S.-based Muslim charities, including KindHearts,” said Jennifer Turner, a researcher with the ACLU Human Rights Program and author of the report. “While terrorism financing laws are meant to make us safer, policies that give the appearance of a war on Islam only serve to undermine America’s diplomatic efforts just as President Obama reaches out to the Muslim world. These counter-productive practices alienate American Muslims who are key allies and chill legitimate humanitarian aid in parts of the world where charities’ good works could be most effective in winning hearts and minds.”
According to the report, for which the ACLU conducted 120 interviews with Muslim community leaders and donors in several states including Ohio, federal law enforcement agents are engaging in practices that intimidate Muslim American donors, such as widespread interviews about their donations and surveillance of donations at mosques. Those interviewed say the government’s actions have a chilling effect on Muslim charitable giving, or Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims.
The Ohio-based charity KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development was established in 2002—after the government shut down a number of Muslim charities—with the express purpose of providing humanitarian aid at home and abroad in full compliance with the law. In February 2006, the Treasury Department froze the funds of the charity, stating only that it was “under investigation.” In a unilateral action, the Treasury Department effectively shut KindHearts down without notice of the basis for the freeze, any hearing, any finding of wrongdoing, or any meaningful opportunity to defend itself. KindHearts has been in limbo for more than three years and has asked for independent judicial scrutiny of the government’s action.
“Post 9/11 policies have created a climate of fear that intimidates donors and prevents Muslims in Ohio from practicing their religion,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “This legacy of the Bush administration tarnishes America’s reputation as a beacon of religious freedom.”
In his speech from Cairo on June 4, President Obama raised the issue of terrorism finance laws that have an adverse effect on Muslim giving. The ACLU report makes comprehensive recommendations to the Obama administration and Congress that are necessary to ensure terrorism financing policies are consistent with American values of due process and religious freedom.