WASHINGTON – The repercussions of an airline’s decision to remove a group of imams from a commercial flight in Minneapolis could be heard in Congress this year, where newly dominant Democrats are ready to consider a national ban on racial profiling.

The incident happened in November, made national news and reinvigorated an old proposal that got little attention from the GOP. But now a champion of the legislation, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction on the issue. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who sponsored legislation to ban racial profiling in the last Congress, now chairs the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution.

“I’m convinced that once the body of evidence of racial profiling occurring in our nation is presented before the U.S. Congress and the American people, that indeed they’ll be compelled to do something about it,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau.

Shelton said that the issue lost traction after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the nation was focused on security.

“Many would argue that it’s been exacerbated since 9/11, and we thought it was a tremendous problem before that,” Shelton said. He said he’s spoken about the issue with Conyers and is hopeful for action on legislation soon – perhaps as early as next month. Conyers declined to comment for this story.

Civil rights groups renewed their push for the legislation after last November’s incident, in which US Airways barred six imams from a Minneapolis to Phoenix flight. The imams, returning from a religious conference, had prayed on their prayer rugs in the airport before the flight. After boarding, a passenger, who said she overheard anti-U.S. statements, passed a note to a flight attendant. The men were taken off the airplane, handcuffed and questioned. They were later released.

Muslims now have representation in Congress for the first time, with the election last November of Democrat Keith Ellison. Ellison, also the first black member of Congress from Minnesota, has called for an end to racial profiling.

“We should have an equal right to use the highways and byways and the airlines without regard to color, race, religion, or anything like that,” said Ellison, who serves on the Judiciary Committee.


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