A federal judge on Tuesday rejected most defense arguments to dismiss a lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams who were arrested last November on a U.S. Airways jet in Minneapolis after passengers reported they were acting suspiciously.
The imams have said that three of the men in their party said their evening prayers in the airport terminal before boarding the plane, then entered the aircraft individually, except for one member who is blind and needed a guide. Once on the plane, the men did not sit together.
A passenger raised concerns about the imams through a note passed to a flight attendant. Also, witnesses reported that the imams made anti-American comments about the war in Iraq and that some asked for seat belt extensions even though a flight attendant thought they didn't need them.
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, in a 41-page opinion and order, said it is "dubious" that a reasonable person would conclude from those facts that the imams were about to interfere with the crew or aircraft. She said the plaintiffs had stated a plausible claim that Metropolitan Airports Commission officers violated their constitutional rights.
"We're thankful for the order and are obviously in full agreement with the judge's conclusions," said Frederick Goetz, one of the imams' attorneys. "This has always been a straightforward civil rights case. You had six individuals ... doing absolutely nothing wrong. They prayed in the airport and got arrested. That's unconstitutional, and they deserve redress."
MAC spokesman Pat Hogan said the commission's attorneys were still reviewing the judge's decision.
"We'll continue to pursue the case in court," Hogan said. "Our goal remains to protect the safety of the flying public and we'll continue to argue for our ability to do that."
U.S. Airways, also a defendant in the lawsuit, said it was studying the order.
"We continue to stand by the actions of our crew members and employees, but at this point we can't say anything definitive about next steps," said spokeswoman Andrea Rader.
Ahmed Shqeirat, Mohamed Ibrahim, Didmar Faja, Omar Shahin, Mahmoud Sulaiman and Marwan Sadeddin were arrested as they returned home from the North American Conference of Imams on Nov. 20, 2006. Ibrahim lives in California, the others in Arizona.
The judge rejected the defendants' responses to a variety of the imams' legal claims, including false arrest, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
However, she did strike a couple of claims made by the imams, slightly narrowing their case. But Goetz said his clients were happy with the ruling.
"They'll have their day in court on certainly the most significant issues," he said. "You don't arrest people because of their faith. You don't arrest people because of their national origin. That's just fundamentally wrong."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)