A Manhattan federal judge ruled Thursday that four Muslim men could not sue federal agents for damages who they claim put them on the government's no-fly list in retaliation for refusing to become snitches and spy on their mosques.
The men filed suit in 2013, but they had their right to fly restored this year -- without any admission by the government about why they were banned -- and that left their damages claims against the agents as the only active part of the suit.
U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams said damages suits against officials for violations of constitutional rights had been restricted by the Supreme Court and never extended to violations of First Amendment religious freedom.
"Although federal law imposes limits on the investigative tactics federal officials may employ in seeking to keep this nation safe, it also establishes limits on the manner in which an individual may vindicate his rights should those tactics cross the line," the judge wrote.
The no-fly list has an estimated 48,000 names, and the judge noted methods and reasons for adding and subtracting names is a closely guarded government secret. She said the government recently revised its procedure to make it easier for people to challenge their status on the no-fly list, but indicated that she might be willing to entertain a challenge to the legal adequacy of the new procedures.
Baher Azmy, a lawyer for the four men, said their legal team had not decided whether to appeal Abrams' decision, and might also seek to revive the portion of the case that sought to force reforms of the process but was put on hold when their clients were allowed to fly.