Int’l Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump (D. Md. 2017): Muslim Ban 2.0 Case

By Katherine Gonzalez

On March 6, 2017, President Donald J. Trump, issued a second Executive Order which barred, with certain exceptions, entry to the United States of nationals from predominantly Muslim countries. This order barred nationals from six Muslim-majority countries (the original seven except for Iraq), suspended the entry of refugees for 120 days, and reduced the number of refugees who can be admitted to the United States by more than half. The Plaintiffs (the International Refugee Assistance Project; HIAS, Inc., the Middle East Studies Association; Muhammed Meteab; Paul Harrison; Ibrahim Ahmed Mohomed; John Does Nos. 1 & 3; and Jane Doe No. 2) filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order or a Preliminary Injunction. In an opinion by U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland found that the revised Executive Order should be halted because the Plaintiffs are likely to establish that Section 2(c) of the revised Executive Order, which issued the travel ban against citizens of the six designated Muslim-majority countries, violates the Constitution and federal law, specifically the Establishment Clause and Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101-1537 (2012).

The Plaintiffs argued that they had standing to assert the claim that the revised Executive Order violated the Establishment Clause because the “anti-Muslim views” underlying the Executive Order caused them stress and anxiety. The Court acknowledged that for “purposes of an Establishment Clause claim, non-economic, intangible harms to “spiritual, value-laden beliefs” can constitute a particularized injury sufficient to support standing. Suhre v. Haywood Cty., 131 F.3d 1083, 1086 (4th Cir. 1997). Because the harm suffered by the individual Plaintiffs is “fairly traceable to the challenged conduct” in that the revised Executive Order will result in the disfavoring of Islam, the Court found that the Plaintiffs had standing to assert an Establishment Clause claim.

The Court further determined that in order to withstand an Establishment Clause challenge under the Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 91 S. Ct. 2105, 29 L. Ed. 2d 745 (1971) test, (1) an act must have a secular purpose, (2) “its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion,” and (3) it must not “foster ‘an excessive government entanglement with religion.’” Id. at 612-613 (citations omitted). The Court found that the Plaintiffs presented a convincing case that the revised Executive Order fails the Lemon test because there is substantial, direct evidence that the travel ban was motivated by a desire to ban Muslims as a group from entering the United States. The Plaintiffs primarily relied on statements made by President Trump and his advisors, including a “Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration” on his campaign website “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on,” an interview with CNN in which Trump professed that he believed “Islam hates us” and that the United States had “allowed this propaganda to spread all through the country that [Islam] is a religion of peace,” and a written statement about the December Berlin attack in which he lamented that people “prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday” were killed by “ISIS and other Islamic terrorists [who] continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.” Many of the statements about Islam, including references to Islam generally and to jihād, tend to refer to false conceptions of Islamic law or sharīʿa as inherently violent.

Rejecting the argument about neutrality on its face, the Court granted in part and denied in part the Plaintiffs’ motion. The Court issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 2(c) of the Executive Order.

Editors’ Note: Many of the statements about Islam, including references to Islam generally and to jihād, tend to refer to false conceptions of Islamic law or sharīʿa as inherently violent.

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