WASHINGTON: A Muslim woman filed a lawsuit against a US government body in charge of advocating religious freedom, alleging that she lost a job because of her religion, court documents showed Friday.
Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, who studies South Asia, said the US Commission on International Religious Freedom rescinded a job offer after learning that she was Muslim and worked for a group promoting Muslims’ civil rights in the United States.
In a lawsuit filed on Thursday in federal court, Ghori-Ahmad said she was hired to work as an analyst and immediately was asked to produce a report on religious freedom in Pakistan to test if she could write “objectively.”
Ghori-Ahmad said a commissioner detected no sign of bias in her report but still objected to hiring her, arguing that it would have been “really stupid” for the new employee to reveal her views, according to the lawsuit.
“Passing these tests (which she did) made no difference to the commissioners who opposed working with a Muslim,” said the lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial.
Ghori-Ahmad is seeking damages for distress as well as back pay, saying she was unemployed after the job offer was rescinded. She was later hired by the State Department.
The commission referred questions on the lawsuit to the Justice Department.
The incident took place in 2009. Three commissioners whose actions were questioned in the lawsuit have since left after a shakeup last year led by Senator Dick Durbin, the second highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
Speaking in December, Durbin said he “strongly” supported the group’s work but added: “I have been deeply troubled by allegations of misconduct, misuse of funds and discrimination at the Commission.”
Durbin spearheaded an amendment that limited terms of commissioners and subjected them to federal regulations on discrimination and expenses, amid charges that some had flown first class and stayed in expensive hotels.
The commission was set up under a 1998 law to advise the US government on religious freedom. It has strongly advocated for the rights of minorities around the world.
Its statements on the Islamic world have sometimes been controversial. In its latest annual report, it called for the State Department to put Turkey, a secular state and US ally, on a blacklist over religious freedom that includes countries such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
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