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As 'Muslim-Free Zones' Flourish, Groups Demand DOJ Probe

Broad coalition says such declarations violate Title II of the Civil Rights Act and encourage Islamaphobia

A Whitesburg, Kentucky gun store declaring itself a 'Muslim-free zone.' (Photo: CAIR)

A Whitesburg, Kentucky gun store declaring itself a 'Muslim-free zone.' (Photo: CAIR)

A coalition of 82 civil liberties and human rights organizations, as well as faith-based groups and immigrant rights advocates, on Tuesday called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the growing number of businesses around the country declaring themselves 'Muslim-free zones.'

Doing so violates the constitutional rights of American Muslims, particularly under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the organizations said in a letter (pdf) to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The coalition includes the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the ACLU, and the NAACP, among others. Title II guarantees the right to "full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation... without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin."

Since 2014, a number of businesses in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire—largely gun shops and shooting ranges—have posted signs banning Muslims from their premises, with at least four of those establishments doing so just in the weeks following the July 16 shooting deaths of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In its letter to Lynch, the coalition included a screenshot of a Facebook post by one such business, JJ's Sporting Goods, which stated, "After lengthy meetings with the board of directors, and considering the recent attack of the recruiting station and the killing of 5 service men by a radical muslim [sic], and since I cannot tell a radical muslim [sic] from the 6 non radical Muslims left in the world, we at JJ's have decided not to sell any guns to Muslims!"

Apart from a promise to "monitor" one such business in Arkansas, the DOJ has remained silent on the issue, despite repeated requests for action, the coalition notes. The department "should speak out and take concrete action to protect the constitutional rights of Muslim Americans," CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said on Tuesday.

Last month, Stanford Constitutional Law Center director Michael McConnell told the Huffington Post that the businesses may not be required to comply with Title II of the Civil Rights Act if they qualify as "private clubs," and that there may be no legal recourse for Muslim Americans unless they are actively denied service by those establishments.

But as the coalition points out, determining legal action must first involve a federal inquiry.

"These bigoted declarations are no different than 'whites only' signs posted in businesses during a period of our nation's history that we hoped was over," CAIR national communications director Ibrahim Hooper said in July. "The Department of Justice must investigate these hate-filled and un-American business practices to determine whether civil rights are being violated."

Action may also come on a state-by-state basis. CAIR in July filed a lawsuit in state federal court against the Florida Gun Supply of Inverness on the grounds that its 'Muslim-free' declaration violates the federal public accommodations law.

"We just can't let segregation rear its ugly head in Florida again," CAIR chief executive director Hassan Shibly said at the time. "This is part of Islamaphobia that we need to challenge."

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