Muslim group sues congressman for defamation
A prominent national Islamic civil rights organization today announced that it has filed a defamation lawsuit against a congressman from North Carolina who falsely claimed the group is “the fund-raising arm of Hezbullah.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in response to an October 2003 Charlotte Observer newspaper article in which Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC) claimed the stress of living near CAIR in Washington, D.C., caused the breakup of his marriage.
Ballenger said that proximity to CAIR “bugged the hell” out of his wife. He said his wife also objected to women “wearing hoods” going in and out of CAIR’s Capitol Hill headquarters. (NOTE: Many CAIR staffers wear religiously-mandated headscarves, or hijab.) At the time of the article’s publication, CAIR attributed Ballenger’s statements to “Islamophobic hysteria.”
In its lawsuit, CAIR said Ballenger’s defamatory statements harmed the group’s reputation and were not protected speech because he did not make them within the scope of his role as a member of the House of Representatives. The suit says Ballenger’s claim that CAIR raised funds for terrorists was made “with actual malice, wrongful and willful intent to injure”¦and with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity.” CAIR is seeking $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages, together with costs and attorney’s fees.
“With this lawsuit, we are sending a clear message to all those who make malicious and defamatory statements against American Muslims or their institutions that they will be held accountable in a court of law,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR’s director of legal affairs.
Ballenger, who serves on the House International Relations Committee, has angered African-American and women’s groups with previous bigoted statements. Last December, Ballenger said African-American Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney stirred in him “a little bit of a segregationist feeling. I mean, she was such a b-tch.” In another incident, many people were offended by a black lawn jockey — long a symbol of racial insensitivity — in Ballenger’s front yard.
CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 25 regional offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada.