|NMU||PENNSYLVANIA||Newsgathering||Oct 24, 2001|
Muslim Journal distributor files suit over arrest threats
- The ACLU filed a lawsuit against McKeesport, Pa city officials on behalf of a magazine distributor over the city’s permit requirements.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of a longtime distributor of the
Muslim Journal because of arrest threats he received from city officials in May.
City officials told A.B. Abdul-Rabb that he faced arrest, unless he purchased a distribution permit.
“The city said he needed to get a permit because he was asking for money,” said Witold Walczak, director of the ACLU in Pittsburgh and Abdul-Rabb’s lawyer. “The vendor’s licence is a 10-day permit that cost $250.”
The federal civil rights lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh alleges that McKeesport city officials violated Abdul-Rabb’s First Amendment right of free expression and the right to practice his religion.
“This is a charitable organization where all the money gets put back into producing the magazine and buying the Koran,” Walczak said. “We don’t believe the government should be allowed to set up a licensing system like this for people who wish to distribute political or religious materials in public forums.”
From May through July, Abdul-Rabb could not distribute the magazine within city limits. It wasn’t until the ACLU stepped in that the threat was lifted and Abdul-Rabb continued to hand out his magazine.
Although the city declined to arrest Abdul-Rabb, the ACLU was not satisfied with the permit requirements and asked city officials to justify them. Officials did not respond to the letters, Walczak said. The lawsuit seeks to prove that the permit ordinance is unconstitutional, secure an injunction against any laws that constitutionally restrains literature distribution and get Abdul-Rabb restitution in the sum of $480, the amount of money he would have made from May through July.
According to Walczak, Abdul-Rabb has never had problems with distribution in the past.
The Muslim Journal is published by the Muslim-American Society and is distributed nationwide. Abdul-Rabb has been the McKeesport distributor for more than 30 years. He either sells or gives the magazine away to people interested in Islam.
(A.B. Abdul-Rabb v. City of McKeesport. Media Counsel: Witold Walczak, ACLU, Pittsburgh) — HP
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press