6 imams

Flying imams lose bid to limit lawsuit press coverage

The judge hearing the lawsuit by the six imams (aka the ‘Flying Imams’) who are suing the ‘John Doe’ passengers aboard US Airways Flight 300 who reported their suspicious behavior ruled the press and public would not be denied full access to the proceedings:

A federal judge overseeing a lawsuit filed by six Muslim men who were removed from a US Airways flight last fall has declined to limit public access to the case.

Omar T. Mohammedi, a New York attorney for the six Muslim scholars, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he sought limited media access because he felt some of the coverage of the case has been biased against his clients. “When you think of the media, and the way they have been portraying this case, it has not been very helpful. It has been biased,” Mohammedi said. “That has caused a lot of stress, a lot of stress on our clients, as well as made it difficult for us to handle this case … in a manner that it should be handled.”

In a letter dated Tuesday and addressed to Mohammedi, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery noted that Mohammedi had requested that the court remove members of the media from an electronic distribution list, bar members of the media from attending hearings, and hold proceedings in closed session.

“The Court declines to treat this case in the extraordinary manner that you request,” the judge wrote. She added that the public and press have an interest in full access to judicial proceedings under the First Amendment.

You have provided no legal authority supporting your request to limit public access to this case,” Montgomery wrote. “While it is regrettable that anonymous individuals have threatened violence, the Court Security Officers will insure that the United States Courthouse here in Minneapolis is secure.”

The judge’s letter was entered in the case file, and it noted that further communications on the matter should also be filed through the court’s electronic database.

CAIR, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, has limited access by our free press in the past. When the imams’ lawsuit was announced at CAIR’s national headquarters, on March 13, 2007, both the Christian Broadcast Network and Washington Times’ reporter Audrey Hudson were barred from the press conference:

Council spokesman Ibrahim Cooper said that the Christian Broadcasting Network airs anti-Islamic messages and that the Times reporter, Audrey Hudson, has covered the imams’ case unfairly in the past.

The imams’ lawyer, Omar T. Mohammedi, is a both a member of CAIR and a board member of New York City’s Human Rights Commission. He was appointed to the latter by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in 2002.

US Airways seeks dismissal of Flying Imams’ lawsuit

Last November, six imams were removed from a US Airways flight after passengers and flight crew reported their suspicious behaviors. They boarded the aircraft, without objection, after three of the six prayed loudly in the gate area. Yet, while boarding and the plane waiting to push back from the gate, passengers became alarmed when some of the imams exchanged seats, occupied seats to which they were not assigned, asked for seatbelt extenders they seemed not to need, and spoke disparagingly of US foreign policy in Iraq. The imams were questioned and released but US Airways denied them further service. The incident earned the six the moniker The Flying Imams. In March, they sued US Airways, the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and the yet to be named ‘John Doe’ passengers who reported their behaviors. Yesterday, the Washington Times reported:

US Airways is asking a court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a group of Muslim imams, saying the airline followed government guidelines when it removed the men from a flight because of suspicious behavior.

The response to the lawsuit, filed March 12 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, says the airline “is required to adhere to the main points of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Common Strategy regarding security threats in the aviation context.”

The strategy advises flight crew members to be “alert for odd or suspicious behavior during all interactions with passengers in the gate area, during the boarding process and during routine flight duties and passenger interactions,” the response to the lawsuit states.

“Flight crewmembers are required to mentally assess each passenger’s behavior and the potential for threat. Moreover, the common strategy notes that this is a subjective analysis, and recognizes that there is no key factor that applies in every situation,” it states.

“Notably, the common strategy advises flight crews to “Presume the worst,” and “Be suspicious about any passenger disturbance,” the response states.

The imams’ lawsuit also names the Metropolitan Airports Commission and unidentified John Does as defendants. Their claims include false arrest, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, failure to train, conspiracy to discriminate and negligence.