The Muslim Legal Fund of America considers cases with significant potential impact on civil rights and liberties in America. MLFA does not fund cases solely on the basis of a person’s religious identity. While our focus is protecting the civil rights and liberties of a persecuted minority in America (Muslims), being Muslim alone does not qualify an individual, group or organization for assistance from MLFA.
Due to limited resources, the Muslim Legal Fund of America cannot fund every case presented to the organization. MLFA declining to fund a case does not necessarily mean that a case lacks merit.
MLFA focuses on constitutional issues such as:
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of speech
- Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures
- Due process of law
- Right to a trial by jury
- Legal Rights of the accused
- Right to face one’s accuser
- Right to legal counsel
- Prohibition of excessive bail
- Protection from cruel and unusual punishment
MLFA may also provide financial assistance for legal costs for situations in which individuals are being approached by federal law enforcement agents, especially if the individuals believe they are being approached because of their religious beliefs.
The Muslim Legal Fund of America does not generally provide financial assistance for the following types of cases:
- A person was fired from a job without a good reason or just cause
- Domestic matters (divorce, child custody, wills, etc.)
- A person is being denied benefits, such as workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, or Social Security
- Landlord/tenant disputes
- State cases
- Other legal cases that do not have the potential to have a broad impact (potential to set or strengthen a civil liberties precedent)
Please note: All applications for assistance are processed through the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, the charitable law firm funded by a generous grant from MLFA.
– Reduce the frequency and efficacy of civil liberty violations against Muslims in American courtrooms.
– Safeguard community members’ constitutional rights by funding effective legal work and programs.
– Empower community members to safeguard their constitutional rights by providing information material about exercising those rights.
– Grant fund a nonprofit law firm dedicated to representing Muslim defendants in select cases that fit the scope of MLFA’s mission.
– Increase awareness of relevant issues through multi-media communications channels.
– Develop a network of supporters to help spread awareness and funding capacity.
– Strengthen American Muslim nonprofits by performing risk and compliance evaluations and educating them on the issues they need to be aware of and to work on to keep themselves and their communities safe.
Muslim Legal Fund of America is staffed with nonprofit professionals who have a cumulative 70+ years of nonprofit experience. MLFA is also funding a nonprofit law firm headed by renowned attorney Charles Swift, retired officer in the US Naval JAG corps. This nonprofit law firm provides legal representation for cases that fit the scope of MLFA’s mission. Mr. Swift leads a team of bright and committed attorneys, fellows, and staff concentrating in immigration, civil, criminal, and nonprofit compliance matters. CLCMA provides all of its services pro bono.
The national average for legal work in the US is $250 per hour. When CLCMA was established in 2014, MLFA was able to provide exceptionally high-caliber legal service and bring the average legal cost down to $85 per hour. This meant that MLFA could fund many more cases efficiently without sacrificing excellent legal representation for American Muslims in federal courtrooms. One of the greatest benefits to the CLCMA model is institutional knowledge and learning capacity. Having the same attorneys and staff working on similar issues in immigration, civil, and criminal cases over time increases everyone’s aptitude and experience moving forward. This creates higher efficiency, greater expertise, and overall more effective representation. Institutional memory, historical data, and collaborative teamwork, will also help the CLCMA scale and mitigate risk during succession planning.
CLCMA launched the Nonprofit Practice Group (NPG) as a pilot project in September 2016. The NPG, led by Senior Corporate Counsel and Director of Outreach and Compliance, Shari F. Crittendon, serves as a resource to the Muslim community by providing a range of transactional legal services for Muslim nonprofit organizations (NPOs) during their start-up, continuation, or expansion phases. NPG’s mission is to transform the Muslim community by equipping its nonprofit leaders with the skills, confidence, and resources they need to make their organizations effective, innovative, and sustainable. NPG’s work consists of assisting charitable, community, and faith-based Muslim NPOs in strengthening their organizational and programmatic infrastructure, so that they may achieve their mission and withstand heightened government scrutiny.
Since forming in 2001, Muslim Legal Fund of America has funded many cases. Not every case ended with the desired outcome, but each defendant received high-level legal representation. Here are a few cases and their outcomes:
1. Holy Land Foundation: Five defendants charged with material support in connection with their lawful international humanitarian work. First trial resulted in no convictions and attorneys were able to suppress some of the prosecution’s unfair courtroom tactics. Because the judge declared a mistrial in many of the counts, prosecutors put these men on a second trial. During this second trial, the judge allowed the previously disallowed unfair tactics and the defendants were convicted.
2. Dr. Sami Al-Arian: A university professor was arrested and put on trial for “material support” for terrorism based solely on his First Amendment activities. He was found not-guilty on all charges, but reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead to one count in exchange for voluntary deportation. Prosecutors did not honor the plea agreement and arrested Dr. Al-Arian. After around 8 years of litigation, a federal judge finally dropped the charges.
3. Craig Baxam: A US Army veteran convert to Islam traveled overseas to study religion. He was stopped by foreign security officers, questioned for hours about hypothetical situations and then handed over to U.S. federal agents, who charged him with “material support” for terrorism based on his answers to those hypothetical questions. This was one of the most clear cases of “thought crime” prosecutions so far. MLFA-funded attorneys were able to get all terrorism-related charges dropped.
4. Osama Abu-Irshaid: For 11 years, community leader Osama Abu-Irshaid’s life was on hold. His application for citizenship kept getting “mysteriously” delayed over and over again. This meant that his ability to travel outside the U.S. was limited, which caused him to lose out on several work opportunities. He applied for legal assistance from the MLFA-funded law center, CLCMA. After the attorneys reviewed his request, the law center decided to represent Osama in his citizenship denial case and immediately went to work. After the attorneys defeated the government’s motion for summary judgment to deny Osama’s citizenship, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services reopened his case, granted his application and scheduled him to take his citizenship oath. His attorneys’ ability to push back against the anti-Muslim bias resulted in a positive outcome for Osama, his family, and the larger community.
5. Noor Salman: Noor was falsely accused of aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen, in providing material support to ISIS through the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. She was also charged with obstruction of justice. On March 30, 2018, a jury fully acquitted her of the charges. In 184 terrorism cases that had gone to a jury since 9/11, there have been only three acquittals, and only one in an ISIS case, that of Noor Salman. This case was able to thwart the unfair precedence of “guilt by association” and vindicate a Muslim woman who was abused by her own husband and law enforcement officials who imprisoned her for 15 months. Thanks to the support of those at CLCMA, and from generous contributions of both time and money from the Muslim community, Noor was able to prevail and is free today and with her son.
6. Hamid Hayat: Hamid’s story is a heart-breaking example of justice denied but ultimately restored. Hamid, a 25 year old cherry-picker and son of an ice-cream truck driver, was accused of training with Al-Qaeda and operating a sleeper cell in a small farming town in California in one of the first terror trials post 9/11. In 2007, he was convicted and sentenced to 24 years behind bars. Hailed as a victory against homegrown terrorism by government prosecutors, a judge ultimately overturned his conviction, thanks to an MLFA-funded motion to appeal his case. It took 14 years, but the truth finally prevailed. Sometimes the road to justice is long and winding. As shocking as Mr. Hayat’s case is, it reminds us to never give up and to keep fighting for justice, for as long as it takes.
Muslim Legal Fund of America takes partial credit for the pressure placed on federal law enforcement agencies to start recording voluntary interviews with community members. MLFA is active in spreading awareness of the “false statements” traps that federal agents use to arrest and imprison innocent community members who were just trying to help. MLFA also provides grants to organizations who also spread awareness and publish studies on federal law enforcement abuses of community members’ civil liberties.
Over the years, MLFA learned that centralizing efforts helps maintain better control over financial resources. The MLFA-funded nonprofit law firm will help reduce overhead, increase representation capacity, and establish long-term infrastructure for safeguarding constitutional rights in America.
MLFA is seeing proof of concept that funding a nonprofit law center is a better model than the previous case-funding approach. We are seeing more success each year via case outcomes. We see our community requesting legal support much earlier and more often, which in turn leads to better outcomes in general.
MLFA is funding more cases, serving more clients, and achieving better results. CLCMA is increasing their capacity by training new Muslim attorneys, collaborating with major law firms on a pro-bono basis, providing proactive / preventative engagement and educational services to our nonprofit organizations and leadership.
Our focus is to develop and expand the nonprofit law center and staff each department in order to grow as the number one source for legal representation and education for the American Muslim community. This can be realized through the generosity of our donor community who recognize, support, and promote the work that makes justice, possible.