LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Civil rights groups filed suit today against the federal government on behalf of three Muslim Americans who allege immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport subjected them to ``unconstitutional'' questioning about their religion.
On multiple occasions, when the plaintiffs arrived back in the United States from abroad, officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations allegedly asked them ``inappropriate'' questions, including whether they are Muslim, whether they attend a mosque, which mosque they attend, whether they are Sunni or Shi'a and how often they pray, according to the suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the ACLU of Minnesota.
The plaintiffs allege the officers retain the answers to their questions in a law enforcement database for up to 75 years.
A CBP spokesperson said that as a matter of policy, the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
``It is and always has been wrong to force Muslims, or any person of faith, to divulge their religious beliefs and practice to border officials,'' said Mohammad Tajsar, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. ``The government's longstanding discriminatory scrutiny of Muslim travelers must end now.''
The questioning by federal officials allegedly violates the plaintiffs' First Amendment freedoms of religion and association, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court.
In addition, because CBP and HSI allegedly single out Muslim Americans for such questioning, they also violate the First and Fifth Amendments' protections against unequal treatment on the basis of religion, the ACLU says.
The questioning is part of a broader 20-year practice of border officials targeting Muslim American travelers because of their religion, the civil rights groups allege.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that CBP's religious questioning violates civil rights law. They also seek an injunction barring the Department of Homeland Security and CBP from questioning them about their faith at ports of entry, and the expungement of records reflecting information that border officers obtained through questioning.