Press Release

Supreme Court rules feds can’t get off hook when violating religious liberty Muslims allegedly placed on the No-Fly List as punishment for religious beliefs allowed to seek justice

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

Plane flying in sky

WASHINGTON  The Supreme Court just ruled that three Muslim Americans who claim they were wrongfully put on the NoFly List as punishment for their religious beliefs are entitled to sue for financial relief, which the Supreme Court said is sometimes the only form of relief that can remedy government violations of religious freedom. 

Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah and Naveed Shinwari filed a federal lawsuit in 2013, claiming that the FBI asked them to serve as confidential informants — an impossible ask that would force them to spy on the private lives of fellow Muslims and violate a core tenet of their religious beliefs. In retaliation, the FBI allegedly placed them on the national No Fly List, a list of individuals banned from flying because they are suspected of being potential terrorist threats. When Tanvir, Algibhah and Shinwari sued, arguing that the FBI was misusing the No-Fly List to burden their religious beliefs in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the FBI took them off the list and asked for the case to be thrown out.   

“We’re glad the Supreme Court unanimously emphasized that the government can’t expect to be let off the hook by simply changing its tune at the last second,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel at Becket. “This is a good decision that makes it easier to hold the government accountable when it violates Americans’ religious liberties. 

This is a common tactic by the government bodies across the United States: changing harmful policies or actions the moment they are challenged in court, and then arguing that since the harm has ceased, the people harmed by their actions cannot even bring a lawsuitEven though accepting this legal argument opens the door to egregious abuses, the district court agreed with the FBI and tried to dismiss the lawsuit. Fortunately, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Muslim men, finding that they still could seek justice.  

When the FBI appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming it they could not be sued for its past actions, Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that RFRA was written to let citizens pursue remedies in court, and that letting the government escape accountability was harmful for religious liberty. Today’s Supreme Court ruling means that Tanvir, Algibhah and Sinwari can pursue their claims – and that governmenteverywhere will have to think twice before violating an individual’s religious liberty rights. 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.