Naperville Sun: Labels are inflammatory and wrong

When a group of Muslims attempted to create the Irshad Learning Center in Naperville, much was said about the supposed “threat” this group posed. Indeed, treating all Muslims as a potential threat is a tactic often used by those who allow their ignorance to drive their irrational fears.

The property was purchased, the building was already in place and all that remained was a permit from the DuPage County Board to use the facility as a religious institution. Unfortunately, after a slew of anti-Muslim rhetoric by some residents of Naperville, the County Board voted to deny the permit. The lawsuit that has been filed on behalf of the ILC by the Chicago Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations states that as a result of the denial, the County Board violated the organization’s federally protected rights.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is no stranger to this sort fear-mongering. CAIR and more than 300 other Muslim organizations and individuals were listed as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the Department of Justice’s case against the Holy Land Foundation years ago — a point that a Naperville Sun freelance reporter went out of his way to include in the article about the ILC lawsuit, despite the fact that neither the ILC nor CAIR-Chicago have ever been labeled unindicted co-conspirators of anything.

The question that remains is: “What does it mean to be an unindicted co-conspirator?” The answer is “nothing.”

The term “unindicted co-conspirator” may at first seem damning. After all, one would think “co-conspirator” says it all. But the word that comes before it is the most ignored, and ironically the most telling portion of the phrase: “unindicted.”

There is no legal implication to being labeled an unindicted co-conspirator. This nation’s Constitution requires that if the government is going to deprive someone of life, liberty or property, it can do so only if it has provided that person with due process. Due process requires that to charge someone with a crime, the government must have probable cause. To convict someone of a crime, the government must prove its allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. It must give the accused an opportunity to face his accusers and challenge the credibility of the evidence put forth against him. Simply claiming that someone is guilty without due process defies the principles of our justice system. Simply put, being “unindicted” means that none of this has taken place: no official charge of a crime, no trial, no guilt.

Even more interesting is that the United States attorney’s manual recommends against labeling individuals as unindicted co-conspirators and looks unfavorably upon publicizing such lists. For whatever reason, the Department of Justice chose to compile the list and make it public. It has had a real impact on the individuals and entities named in it by encouraging the “guilt by association” rhetoric that has been used to treat anything Muslim as a threat.

It is this same rhetoric that made discrimination against the ILC possible and threatens to undermine the most cherished values of our nation.

Christina Abraham is civil rights director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago.