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ACLU: Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity

June 2009

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The American Civil Liberties Union report on how the government's actions have created a climate of fear that chills American Muslims' free and full exercise of their religion through charitable giving, or zakat, one of the "five pillars" of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims.

On September 24, 2001, President George W. Bush announced in the White House Rose Garden that, in "a strike on the financial foundation of the global terror network," he had taken executive action, without consulting Congress, to expand the Treasury Department's unilateral authority to freeze the assets of organizations it considered terrorist organizations. He declared, "Just to show you how insidious these terrorists are, they oftentimes use nice-sounding, non-governmental organizations as fronts for their activities. We have targeted three such NGOs. We intend to deal with them, just like we intend to deal with others who aid and abet terrorist organizations." Federal authorities announced they were investigating over 30 Muslim
charities.

Within the space of ten days in December 2001, the federal government froze the assets of the three largest Muslim charities in the United States-the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Global Relief Foundation, and Benevolence International Foundation-effectively shutting each of them down. The government seized these charities' assets during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at the height of annual Muslim charitable giving. These charities, which had been operating without incident for years-and for over a decade in the case of the Holy Land Foundation-were not on any government watch list before their assets were frozen. Indeed, before it was shut down the Holy Land Foundation had made repeated requests to government officials for assistance in complying with the law, only to be rebuffed.

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