In the wake of New York Republican Peter King's March 10 hearings on the extent of Muslim radicalization in the United States -- hearings, which, as it turns out were theatrical, fairly toothless and didn't break any new ground in understanding threats to national security -- Senate democrats decided to hold a hearing on threats to the civil rights of Muslim Americans.
Beginning his testimony by saying he was sure his former boss, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, was "here in spirit," Thomas Perez read off a litany of cases in which Muslim Americans have been harassed and intimidated -- from the firebombing of a mosque in Tennessee to school bullying-- simply for being Muslim.
Perez is the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice, and he was part of a panel of people who testified at the hearing today. He promised that the Civil Rights Division would use "every tool in our arsenal" to fight discrimination against Muslims in the United States.
Convened by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, the hearings exposed aspects of discrimination and violence against Muslims, including job discrimination, vandalism of mosques, and bullying. Muslims, who are about 1 percent of the United States population, currently make up 15 percent of the complainants in DOJ civil rights cases and 25 percent of employment discrimination cases.
Today's hearing ran for about two hours, much shorter than King's all-day affair, and had a clear purpose, which Durbin explained in a statement when he first announced the event: "It is important for our generation to renew our founding charter's commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights."
Alexander Costa, the dean of the law college at Florida International University, and a former attorney in the Bush Administration, testified that the DOJ has been pursuing attacks against Muslims since 9/11 -- counter to the conservative contention that this is a hobbyhorse of the Obama Administration. After the terrorist attacks, discrimination and violence against Muslims -- and anyone perceived to be from an Arab country, including Sikhs--shot upward.
When questioned by Arizona Republican John Kyl, Costa also clapped back at the usefulness of various state legislation being passed to ban Sharia law.
"Courts do not apply foreign laws or religious laws," Costa said, citing the so-called "supremacy clause" in the Constitution. "I don't see how any foreign or religious law could supplant U.S. law. The supremacy clause makes clear that U.S. law is the law of the land."
Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, agreed, saying she was "thankful" for the existence of the clause.
In some ways, today's hearing served as a bookend to King's. It was mainly a way of putting another side of the story on the record. Durbin concluded the morning saying, "What I hope this hearing has suggested, that among the millions of Muslim Americans the majority are law-abiding Americans."