A Project of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

2021 Civil Rights Report: Resilience in the Face of Hate

Islamophobia Report Resilience in the Face of Hate

Executive Summary

CAIR has been at the forefront of defending the civil rights and civil liberties of American Muslims while pursuing justice for all. As part of our mission, CAIR provides free legal services to individuals who have been a victims of anti-Muslim discrimination or bigotry. We have offices in 25 states to help clients obtain fair and just resolutions to their cases.

The first section of this report gives a detailed breakdown of our 2020 civil rights complaints and highlights CAIR’s legal achievements across the nation. In 2020, CAIR received a total of 6,144 complaints, with immigration and travel accounting for the majority of reported cases and employment discrimination representing the largest bulk of discrimination complaints.

In the next section, we provide a comprehensive reflection of CAIR’s major legal achievements in 2019 and 2020. Although this section highlights the progress that occurs for all when CAIR wins legal justice for our clients, these cases also provide us a snapshot of the lived experiences of American Muslims. For instance, CAIR filed a lawsuit challenging Texas’ anti-BDS legislation on behalf of Bahia Amawi, a school speech pathologist, who lost her job after refusing to sign an employment contract extension that included a pledge not to boycott Israel. CAIR secured a ruling by a federal court declaring the law unconstitutional, delivering a landmark victory protecting First Amendment rights of all Americans.

In the following section, we shed light on CAIR’s advocacy efforts. Since its founding, CAIR has stood up against all forms of bigotry by working to proactively empower American Muslims. To that end, CAIR launched an action-oriented campaign, “All Hands on Deck,” as a major effort to mobilize the Muslim vote for the 2020 election. CAIR introduced many initiatives under this campaign, including a 24/7 rapid response hotline that was operated by CAIR’s legal team, a community-wide training that explained voting rights to Muslim voters and what to do if these rights were being violated, a calling center for 150,000 registered Muslim households on the day of the election, a virtual town hall and phone banking event, an election-day live coverage update special, and a nationwide exit poll survey of Muslim voters in efforts to collect data. We are proud to fight alongside a broad coalition of groups to achieve justice for all and uplift the voices of the most marginalized people in our society.

Lastly, due to the rising number of hate crimes over the past decade, this report also dedicates a special section to examining CAIR’s role in demanding hate crime inquiries and probes by law enforcement. Our civil rights team has played a vital role in demanding that law enforcement agencies do not create a double standard when American Muslims are the victims of a hate crime.

CAIR is committed to protecting the rights of American Muslims and empowering them to fight for justice for all people. We aspire to have a nation where all Americans have the equal right to freely practice their faith regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.

Key Research Findings

  1. CAIR received a total of 6,144 complaints nationwide in 2020 involving a range of issues, including discrimination, immigration and travel restrictions, bias incidents, incarceree rights, law enforcement, and school-related incidents, among other reported issues.
  2. There was a 9% increase in complaints received since our previous civil rights report, Targeted, which was published in 2018.
  3. CAIR recorded 1,814 complaints regarding immigration and travel-related issues, one of the most frequent complaints we received.
  4. There was a 20% decrease in reported hate crimes to CAIR in 2020, which was likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
  5. Employment discrimination accounted for 57% of all discrimination complaints making it the most common form of discrimination reported to CAIR.

Breakdown of Civil Rights Data

  • Discrimination complaints encompassed the following forms of discrimination: employment, baking, denial of services, mosque-related issues, and housing incidents. Employment discrimination accounted for 57% of all discrimination complaints.
  • Hate and Bias reports included verbal harassment, vandalism, and physical violence, such as the forcible removal of hijabs.
  • Immigration and Travel complaints included issues involving citizenship, asylum, CBP and USCIC abuses such as airport profiling incidents, the no-fly list, and the Muslim Ban.
  • Law Enforcement/Government included FBI, police, and watchlist surveillance complaints.
  • Incarceree Rights included inmate complaints regarding religious accommodation issues, facilities, etc.
  • School complaints included bullying, Islamophobic school curriculum, and holiday denials.
  • Other Complaints (reports included voting complaints, criminal cases, requests for legal advice, COVID-19 issues, stimulus, referral requests, etc.)

Key Case Highlights

  1. Virginia’s Riverside Regional Jail created a religiously segregated space for incarcerees who promised to live their lives in accordance with the Bible, colloquially known as the ‘GodPod,’ thereby establishing an official preference for Christianity. Whereas Christian incarcerees were provided regular religious programming, instruction and materials, Muslims and incarcerees of other faiths were denied access to each of these things. CAIR sued the jail and won. A court declared the religious segregation illegal, setting a precedent that requires equal treatment of incarcerees of all faiths in other correctional facilities.
  2. CAIR launched and advanced a series of lawsuits against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), among numerous other government agencies, as part of a coordinated challenge against FBI’s terrorist watchlisting system – a program that has subjugated Muslims to years of profiling, harassment and abuse. CAIR secured a ruling by a federal court declaring the watchlisting system unconstitutional, delivering a major blow to the government’s concerted efforts to broadly and indiscriminately violate the rights of Muslims. This legal achievement is a huge step towards dismantling the watchlisting system, which has wreaked havoc on the lives of tens of thousands of American Muslims. Although an Appeals Court panel with two judges appointed by President Trump recently voted to uphold the watchlist, CAIR is seeking further review of that ruling.
  3. CAIR Greater Los Angeles secured a legal victory and a monetary settlement for a Muslim woman who was denied services because of her hijab. The lawsuit challenged discriminatory practices at a medical facility and ensured company-wide, sweeping changes to its policy across all of its medical facilities nationwide.
  4. CAIR-Chicago sued the Illinois Secretary of State over a policy that required the revocation of state identification documents and driver’s licenses if Muslim women are caught in public without their hijab or Muslim men are caught without their kufi. CAIR-Chicago won, securing a ruling that the policy is unconstitutional. CAIR-Chicago played a critical role in drafting new language that fosters religious inclusiveness and protects religious expression.
  5. CAIR and CAIR-Georgia sued Georgia Southern University for cancelling a lecture by a visiting civil rights activist and journalist, Abby Martin, after she refused to sign an oath to not “engage in a boycott of Israel.” That lawsuit remains pending.
  6. CAIR filed a lawsuit challenging Texas’ Anti-BDS legislation on behalf of Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist, who lost her job after refusing to sign an employment contract extension with Pflugerville independent school district that included a pledge to not boycott Israel. CAIR secured a ruling by a federal court declaring the law unconstitutional, delivering a landmark victory in protecting First Amendment rights of all Americans.
  7. In July 2019, CAIR-NY sued the Trump administration for illegally revoking the visa of the wife of a US citizen, Saleh Almughani, while she was traveling to Yemen. Within 24 hours of the lawsuit, CAIR-NY secured Mr. Almuganahi’s wife a visa and challenged the Trump administration’s attempts to unlawfully strip the rights of the spouses of American citizens.

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