Alleged victim is Army reservist, investigator for DHS child abuse cases
OKLAHOMA CITY – U.S. Army Reservist and lifelong Oklahoman Raja’ee Fatihah knew he had to take action after learning last year that a Muskogee County gun range had posted a “Muslim-free” sign in its business window.
Fatihah, who is Muslim, went to the Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range in Oktaha and asked to use the range for target practice. Co-owner Nicole Neal requested Fatihah fill out the necessary paperwork, which he completed. At that point, Fatihah told Neal he is Muslim.
At that point, she summoned her husband, Chad Neal, to the front and the pair armed themselves with handguns and refused to allow Fatihah, who is black, to use the gun range. He was ordered to leave the premises.
That encounter, reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s segregation problems that plagued blacks, led to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Oklahoma. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Affairs on Fatihah’s behalf.
The lawsuit seeks to bar the Neals from operating a segregated business based on religion, although the Muslim-free sign was still posted when the suit was filed in federal court.
Chad Neal referred questions to attorney Robert Muise at the American Freedom Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. Although he hasn’t read the lawsuit, Muise claims the federal complaint is “not about religious discrimination. It’s about public safety.”
“They (Neals) believed he was a public safety risk. The individual comes to an outdoor gun range with it pouring down rain. He comes in with an AK-47 and is confrontational and belligerent and then they find out he has ties to CAIR. Their initial instincts were justified,” Muise said. “He went there with an agenda which is proven by this lawsuit.”
Muise claims the “Muslim-Free” sign does not violate anyone’s civil rights.
“They never ask anyone what their religion is and you can have all kinds of signs. That’s protected by the First Amendment,” he said.
Fatihah, an investigator for Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services child abuse division, was accused by the Neals of being at the gun range to murder the defendants. Prior to that, Fatihah was asked if was there to commit an act of violence as part of a “jihad.”
ACLU Legal Director Brady Henderson said during a Wednesday news conference the case could likely have a far-reaching impact on how businesses nationwide treat Muslims.
“This case is not just about defending the rights of Muslim-Americans, it’s about fundamental fairness and freedom,” Henderson said. “Religious segregation no more belongs in today’s America than racial segregation. Whether a sign reads ‘No Muslims’ or ‘No Coloreds,’ or ‘No Women,’ it is just as un-American, and just as wrong.”
Henderson’s reference to racial segregation was based on blatant actions taken by business owners during the 1950s and 1960s who posted “Whites Only” signs or the separate public drinking fountains for blacks and white. During that time, blacks were also ordered to ride in the back of public buses.
Fatihah told reporters he went to the Oktaha gun range with hopes he could talk to the owners and resolve the conflict.
“When I went to the range everything went as expected until I told them I was Muslim,” he said.
Fatihah also told the Neals he is an Army Reservist, but that had no impact on their demand that he leave the premises.
Fatihah was informed at that time he needed a membership application and it would need to be approved by the members of the “gun club.” Membership applications and approvals are not required of non-Muslim patrons who are able to use the range immediately after paying, the lawsuit claims. Fatihah said Wednesday he has never received a response to the membership application he filled out.
“There is no justification for a business denying people service based on religion,” Fatihah said. “I am a servant of my community in every respect and as a proud American I have enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve to protect this country. I should be afforded the same rights and privileges as anyone else.”
Henderson acknowledged that the incident was documented, but declined to say if audio or video was used. ACLU and CAIR officials also admitted they were aware of Fatihah’s plan to visit the gun range, but said they did nothing to prompt the plaintiff. Henderson told reporters ACLU officials provided Fatihah legal advice and informed him of his right to visit the gun range.
This isn’t the first time CAIR has sued a gun range over discrimination complaints. In July, CAIR Florida filed a lawsuit against Florida Gun Supply after the company declared in a YouTube video that his retail gun store is a “Muslim Free Zone” following the Chattanooga, Tenn., terrorist attack that left five service members dead. CAIR Florida alleged the company discriminated based on religion.
The Florida case was dismissed in November after a federal judge agreed the lawsuit was baseless. However, CAIR Florida was given 30 days to appeal, which it failed to do.
Henderson claims the Oklahoma case differs from one in Florida because a person, Fatihah, was victimized by the Neals’ alleged segregation policy. The Florida case focused on the company’s policy, and not the discrimination of a specific individual. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits businesses from denying access to customers based on their race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. The Act has been amended over the years to include sexual orientation and gender.
In the last year, CAIR has documented an increasing amount of anti-Muslim hate crimes targeting both individuals and institutions in the United States that come as a direct result of an increase in Islamophobic rhetoric.
In the last five years in Oklahoma, the Muslim community has been subjected to unconstitutional anti-Muslim legislation, witnessed a sharp uptick in Islamophobic rhetoric from some elected officials, and documented a vast increase in anti-Muslim discrimination, Executive Director Adam Soltani said.
Last year, CAIR’s national office called on the U.S. Department of Justice to address the growing number of businesses nationwide that have been declared a “Muslim-free zone.” CAIR claims such declarations came from businesses in New York, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire.
This story was updated at 4:37 p.m. on Feb. 19 to reflect comments from gun range attorney Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center.