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Combating Post-9/11 Discriminatory Backlash

Enforcement and Outreach

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has placed a priority on prosecuting bias crimes and incidents of discrimination against Muslims, Sikhs, and persons of Arab and South-Asian descent, as well as persons perceived to be members of these groups. The Division also has engaged in extensive outreach efforts to these communities to educate people about their rights and available government services.

New Conference Video: Confronting Discrimination in the Post-9/11 Era

Challenges and Opportunities Ten Years Later, a conference jointly sponsored by the Civil Rights Division and the George Washington University Law School, explored the civil rights issues that Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians in America have faced since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The conference examined the rise in hate crimes and discrimination in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the ways in which the challenges have changed over time, and the key civil rights issues likely to face these communities in the years ahead and how to address them. Visit our press room and watch the videos here.

Read the report on the Civil Rights Division’s Post-9/11 Civil Rights Summit.


The Civil Rights Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and United States Attorneys offices have investigated over 800 incidents since 9/11 involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South-Asian Americans and other individuals perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin. The incidents have consisted of telephone, internet, mail, and face-to-face threats; minor assaults as well as assaults with dangerous weapons and assaults resulting in serious injury and death; and vandalism, shootings, arson and bombings directed at homes, businesses, and places of worship.

Federal charges have been brought against 54 defendants, with 48 convictions to date. Additionally, Civil Rights Division attorneys have coordinated with state and local prosecutors in 150 non-federal criminal prosecutions, often providing substantial assistance.

Some of our prosecutions include:

Murfreesboro, TN: On July 18, 2012, the Division filed a complaint and motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Rutherford County, TN for violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc because the county refused to inspect for and issue a certificate of occupancy to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. A Tennessee state chancery court ruled, on May 29, 2012, that the County improperly approved plans for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, and ordered on June 13, 2012, that Rutherford County may not issue a certificate of occupancy to the Center, which the center sought on July 13, 2012 and was denied on July 16, 2012. The Federal District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee issued a temporary restraining order against the county that will allow the Islamic Center to open their new mosque in time for Ramadan, provided the building passes inspection.

Minneapolis, Minnesota: On August 10, 2011, a former employee of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), George Thompson, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges for assaulting an elderly Somali man in May 2010. Thompson admitted that he assaulted the man because he believes he was Muslim and Somali, and that he yelled to the victim during the assault that he should go back to Africa.

Arlington, Texas: On February 23, 2011, Henry Clay Glaspell pleaded guilty to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act by setting fire to a playground outside a mosque in July 2010. Glaspell will be sentenced on September 19.

Columbia, Tennessee: Three Tennessee men,  Jonathan Edward Stone, Michael Corey Golden, and Eric Ian Baker, pleaded guilty to spraypainting swastikas and “white power” on a mosque in Columbia, Tennessee, and then starting a fire that completely destroyed the mosque. In 2009 Golden and Baker were sentenced to more than 14 and 15 years in prison, respectively. On April 22, 2010, Stone was sentenced to more than 6 years in prison for his role in the crime.

Washington, D.C.: Patrick Syring pleaded guilty on June 12, 2008, to sending several email and voice mail threats to the Director of the Arab American Institute, as well as staff members, at their office in Washington, D.C. in 2006. On July 11, 2008, Syring was sentenced to 12 months in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release, as well as 100 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine.

Burbank, Illinois: Eric Kenneth Nix pleaded guilty on March 6, 2006 to blowing up the van of a Palestinian-American family that was parked in front of the family’s home. Nix pleaded guilty to a felony violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3631, which prohibits threats or violence that interfere with fair housing rights. He received a 15-month prison sentence on August 22, 2006. Daniel R. Alba, who provided Nix with the commercial fireworks device he used in the crime and then lied about it to federal investigators, received a sentence of six months home confinement on March 14, 2006.

El Paso, Texas: Antonio Nunez-Flores pled guilty on March 22, 2005 to throwing an incendiary device at the Islamic Center of El Paso Mosque. The device, commonly referred to as a “Molotov Cocktail,” scorched the ground but did not explode. Children who were playing nearby ran away as the device landed and shattered. A second device was found and extinguished before it could explode. On June 22, 2005, Nunez-Flores was sentenced to 171 months in prison.

Sacramento, California: Matthew John Burdick pled guilty to assaulting a federal employee while engaged in his official duties on May 28, 2003, for shooting and wounding a Sikh postal carrier with a high-powered pellet rifle. The victim sustained a severe injury to his neck that required surgery and caused him to miss several months of work. On September 17, 2003, Burdick was sentenced to 70 months in prison and ordered to pay $25,395 in restitution.

St. Petersburg, Florida: Four defendants obtained substantial prison sentences plotting to destroy the Islamic Education Center. On April 3, 2003, Dr. Robert Goldstein pled guilty to conspiracy to violate civil rights, attempted destruction of religious property, and firearms violations. Goldstein was sentenced to 151 months in prison. His wife, Kristi, had previously pled guilty to firearms violations and been sentenced to 37 months in prison. Dr. Michael Hardee pled guilty to conspiracy to violate civil rights, conspiracy to detonate explosive devices, and firearms violations, and was sentenced to 41 months in prison. A fourth defendant, Samuel Shannahan, pled guilty to a firearms offense and was sentenced to 56 months in prison.

Seattle, Washington: Patrick Cunningham pled guilty on May 9, 2002, for attempting, two days after September 11, 2001, to set fire to cars in the parking lot of Seattle’s Islamic Idriss Mosque. He then fired a gun at worshipers who exited the mosque, and then fled. He was apprehended by police after crashing his vehicle. On December 17, 2002, Cunningham was sentenced to 78 months incarceration.

Salt Lake City, Utah: James Herrick pled guilty to pouring gasoline on the wall of a Pakistani-American restaurant on September 13, 2001, and lighting it in an attempt to destroy the building. He was sentenced on January 7, 2002 to 51 months incarceration.


All of the Civil Rights Division’s litigating sections (such as the Employment Litigation Section, the Educational Opportunities Section, and the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section) have put a priority on investigating allegations of discrimination against Muslims, Sikhs, Arab-Americans, South-Asian Americans, and others perceived to be members of these groups. Many such complaints have been handled by the Civil Rights Division and resolved informally. Others have resulted in the Civil Rights Division filing suits or reaching formal settlements:


Owatonna, MN: On April 12, 2011, the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights reached a settlement agreement with a school district to resolve allegations of harassment and disproportionate discipline of Somali-American students. The case arose from an incident in which severe and persistent harassment of Somali-American students by other students led to a fight involving white and Somali-American students. The settlement required adoption of an anti-harassment policy, training for faculty and staff, establishment of a working group composed of district personnel, parents and students, and other measures.

Cape Henlopen, Delaware: In March 2005, the Civil Rights Division reached a settlement with a school district regarding a complaint that a teacher repeatedly harassed a fourth-grade Muslim student. The teacher ridiculed the student in front of her classmates because of the student's Muslim faith and the fact that student's mother wore a headscarf. Consequently, the student was also harassed by her peers, and she missed several weeks of school as a result of emotional distress. The settlement with the school district required programs for religious tolerance for students and teachers as well as special training and monitoring for the teacher.

Muskogee, Oklahoma: The Civil Rights Division intervened in a case in which a Muskogee, Oklahoma public middle school prohibited a 12-year-old Muslim student from wearing a headscarf required by her faith. The Civil Rights Division argued that the school was using its uniform policy in a discriminatory manner that violated the student's constitutional rights. On May 20, 2004, the case was settled by a consent decree that ordered the school to change its dress code to allow headcoverings for religious reasons.


New York, New York: The Civil Rights Division is suing the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging discrimination against Muslim and Sikh employees. The suit alleges that the MTA discriminates against Muslim and Sikh employees by refusing to permit them to wear headscarves and turbans while working as bus and subway operators and other public-contact positions. The MTA began enforcing this policy against non-regulation headcoverings in 2002, and has taken various actions against Muslim and Sikhs wearing headcoverings, including transferring them to positions where they would not have contact with the public. The suit alleges that the MTA has failed to meet its obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation of religious observances and practices of employees, and has discriminated against the Muslim and Sikh employees by banning their religious headcoverings while permitting other employees to wear other non-regulation headcoverings such as ski caps and baseball caps. The case is pending.

Essex County, New Jersey: In June 2009, the Department of Justice filed suit against Essex County, New Jersey, alleging that it discriminated against a Muslim corrections officer in violation of Title VII when it refused to allow her to wear a religiously mandated headscarf. The United States' complaint alleges that the Essex County Department of Corrections first suspended the officer, then terminated her, for wearing her headscarf, and that the county failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation to its uniform policy. The United States reached a consent decree with the county on November 12, 2010, requiring implementation of a procedure for religious accommodation of all employees.

Fair Housing

San Francisco, California: On January 14, 2004, the Civil Rights Division entered a consent order resolving its housing discrimination complaint against the San Francisco Housing Authority. The complaint had alleged that residents of public housing in San Francisco have been victims of racial, ethnic, and religious harassment including verbal abuse, racial slurs, threats, assaults, vandalism, and robbery, and that the Housing Authority had failed to take reasonable steps to protect its tenants from this harassment. The complaint identified some of the victims of harassment as Iraqi and Muslim public housing residents, and alleged that the harassment had increased following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Under the consent order, the Housing Authority will modify its civil rights policies and employee training, and compensate the victims.

Public Facilities and Public Accommodations

Georgia Courts: In August 2009, the Civil Rights Division closed a compliance review of the courts of the State of Georgia which it had opened in January of that year after receiving complaints that three Muslim women had been barred from courthouses for wearing headscarves. The Georgia Courts is a recipient of federal funding under the Safe Streets Act, and are required as a funding condition not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, and other protected bases. The Civil Rights Division closed the review after the Georgia courts modified its policy to permit headcoverings for those with religious or medical reasons for doing so.

Springfield, Virginia: On September 23, 2001, a Sikh man at a restaurant and pool hall was told by a manager that he would have to remove his turban, due to a policy that barred hats other than baseball caps and cowboy hats. The Sikh man reported to the Civil Rights Division that prior to September 11, he had worn his turban at the restaurant without objection. After investigation, the Civil Rights Division reached a settlement with the restaurant owners, F & K Management, Inc., d/b/a Hard Times Cafes and Santa Fe Cue Clubs on February 28, 2003. The agreement permits patrons to wear religious headgear at the establishment and requires the owners to post non-discrimination signs at their restaurants, place ads in local newspaper, and hold non-discrimination training for their employees. The settlement also included a formal written apology to the Sikh patron.

Des Moines, Iowa: On August 15, 2002, the Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement with Marriott International and the Midwest Federation of American Syrian-Lebanese Clubs to resolve allegations that the Des Moines, Iowa Marriott discriminated against the group on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, when it revoked its offer to host the 2002 annual convention of the Midwest Federation. Six days earlier, Marriott had faxed a signed contract to the Midwest Federation for its signature agreeing to host the Midwest Federation's 2002 convention. Under the settlement agreement, Marriott agreed to pay $100,000 to establish a scholarship fund to be administered by the group and to issue a formal, written apology. The Justice Department investigation was opened pursuant to Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, and religion in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment.

Religious Land Use

Lilburn, Georgia: On September 1, 2011, the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Georgia entered a consent decree resolving the Civil Rights Division's lawsuit against Lilburn alleging discrimination in its refusal to allow the expansion of a mosque. The lawsuit, filed on August 26, 2011, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), alleged that the City had denied the mosque rezoning based on the anti-Muslim bias of city officials and to appease city residents who had expressed anti-Muslim bias. The consent decree requires the city to allow the mosque project to go forward, training of city officials and employees on RLUIPA, adoption and publication of a non-discrimination policy on its website and elsewhere, and record keeping and reporting requirements.

Murfreesboro, TN: In October 2010, the Civil Rights Division filed a brief in a state court in Tennessee arguing that a county would have violated RLUIPA had it treated mosques differently from other places of worship. The plaintiffs in the case, Estes v. Rutherford County, made the remarkable claim that Islam is an ideology rather than a religion, and that mosques are thus not places of worship under RLUIPA. The court agreed with the Division's assertion that Islam is a religion and, therefore, subject to the same protections under the Constitution and federal law as other religions, and denied plaintiffs a preliminary injunction in November 2010, then dismissed the case in May 2011.

Wayne, N J: In 2009, the Civil Rights Division closed its investigation of Wayne Township, New Jersey. Wayne Township had delayed a mosque's building permits for several years, and then tried to use its eminent domain power to seize the land to leave it undeveloped. The Civil Rights Division in 2007 filed a brief with the federal district court arguing that RLUIPA applied to the case. The court agreed, leading to a settlement between the mosque and the township.


Since September 11, 2001, the Civil Rights Division has engaged in an extensive program of outreach to Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South-Asian American organizations. This outreach has included meetings of senior Civil Rights Division officials with community leaders to address backlash-related civil rights issues, providing speakers at national and regional conventions and other community events, and hosting a quarterly meeting that brings together leaders from these communities with officials from a variety of federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Transportation, and others, to address civil rights issues in a comprehensive way.

The Justice Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS) has held more than 750 town and community meetings around the country addressing backlash-related issues, and deployed conflict resolution experts to communities across the country. CRS also has worked with local community leaders to provide cultural professionalism programs for law enforcement and government officials, and developed two films for law enforcement officers that can be downloaded from its website: The First Three to Five Seconds - Law Enforcement Roll Call Training Video on Arab and Muslim Cultural Awareness, and On Common Ground - Law Enforcement Training Video on Sikhism.

Updated August 6, 2015