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US appeals court upholds border checks of Muslims back from religious conference

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled [PDF text] Monday that the US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection [official website] did not violate the First and Fourth Amendments by subjecting individuals returning from an annual international religious conference [conference website] in Canada to lengthy security checks. The ruling comes in a lawsuit [NYCLU materials] brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several US citizens who were among dozens of people searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and held for hours after attending the conference in 2004. The court also dismissed allegations that the government violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [text].

The appeals court upheld the December 2005 district court ruling that the searches were not illegal [JURIST report], though District Court Judge William Skretny wrote that the searches were understandably frustrating. The additional measures were put in place because the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection said it had received intelligence that the conference would serve as a meeting place for terrorists. Although the NYCLU generally expressed disappointment [press release] with Monday's ruling, the advocacy group did note:

In dismissing the case, however, the court rejected the government's contention that American citizens have few if any First Amendment rights at the border. Rather, the court expressly held that border actions targeting First Amendment activity are subject to strict scrutiny, which means the government will have to go to great lengths to justify future border operations that implicate the First Amendment.

"It's deeply disappointing that the court refused to vindicate the rights of innocent Americans treated as terrorists simply because they attended a religious conference," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Nonetheless, there is a silver-lining in the court's rejection of the government's claim of unfettered discretion at the border to interfere with the lawful expressive and religious activities of U.S. citizens."
AP has more.

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