The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a civil rights lawsuit on Wednesday against a gun range in Oktaha that claims to be “Muslim-free.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of U.S. Army Reservist Raja'ee Fatihah, who says he was denied service at the facility because of his faith.
By displaying a sign banning Muslims, the lawsuit claims that the facility's policy violates Oklahoma's non-discrimination law as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of federal legislation that forbids a place of business from denying service to customers based on their race, religion or national origin.
On Wednesday, a sign posted on the window of the storefront of "Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gear" says, "This privately owned business is a Muslim free establishment!!! We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone!!! Thank you!"
Other signs posted say, "We support our troops," "Don't tread on my gun rights. Vote freedom first," and "No media allowed on property. No interviews. All questions can be directed to our lawyer."
Fatihah says he went to the facility in October after it made national news for banning Muslims.
"I thought by putting a face to the label of Muslim and giving them some personal interaction, personal engagement, I could help them to understand there was nothing to fear," he said.
He claims the staff were friendly and helpful to him at the range until he told them he was Muslim.
“It was not until identified himself as Muslim shortly thereafter that the owners armed themselves with handguns and asked if he was at the gun range to 'commit an act of violence or as part of a 'jihad,’” the advocacy groups say.
Fatihah said he explained to the staff that he was a U.S. serviceman and tried to open a dialogue to address their concerns or misconceptions.
“Unfortunately, the longer we spoke, they became hostile… and I was made to to leave on account of my faith,” he said.
Fatihah said he is a servant of his community and is a proud American who enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves to protect his country.
“I am a Muslim, and I recognize what a blessing it is to be an American,” Fatihah said on Wednesday. “I, like millions of Americans like me, embrace both of these identities as a core part of who I am. No one should be denied access to a public business based solely on who they are.”
The executive director of CAIR Oklahoma, Adam Soltani, said the targeting of someone’s faith to refuse service is not in line with American values he identifies with.
“Our country was founded on certain ideals that have shaped the way each and every one of us understands our opportunities in one of the greatest countries on the face of the Earth,” Soltani said. “We have been promised life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have been sold on the idea that there is liberty and justice for all.
“The challenge is that… these ideals come with a caveat. You’re guaranteed the American dream, but only if you're not Muslim.”
Soltani said that many Muslim-Americans are treated as outcasts and criminals solely because of their faith.
“Muslims in Oklahoma and throughout America are faced with the constant fear that we are guilty until proven innocent for crimes we have never and will never commit,” Soltani said. “We are …told we are not fit to be at home in our own nation.”
Soltani described Fatihah as an American hero “who has dedicated his life to protecting the rights and freedoms and values that we hold so dearly as American citizens.”
Brady Henderson, the legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, noted that many people throughout history have “challenged segregation” to ensure fair treatment of all citizens based on the content of their character, not based on their color, gender or religion.
The lawsuit is not a case about anti-Muslim discrimination or Islamophobia, Henderson said, but it is about fundamental fairness and freedom.
“Whether the sign in question says no Muslims, no coloreds, or no women or no Christians or no Buddists or any other thing – it is just as un-American, and fundamentally, it is just as wrong,” Henderson said. “What we are going to court to establish is that it is just as illegal.”
The gun store's attorney and the American Freedom Law Center Co-Founder Robert Muise said Fatihah is a CAIR board member who was looking for trouble.
"He showed up on a day when it was pouring rain -- this is an outdoor gun range, pouring rain -- with an AK47 over his shoulder," Muise said. "Nobody at the gun store asked him what his religion was, they never ask anyone who enters what their religion is. And yet, this individual was confrontational and belligerent ... he was clearly there for an agenda and a purpose, which this lawsuit clearly demonstrates."
Muise claims in the lawsuit are outrageous aimed at weakening laws to ultimately weakening public safety.
“This lawsuit is a political stunt," he said. "It was clearly set up as a political stunt and it has nefarious objectives."
Muise said the owners turned Fatihah away, not because of his religion, but because they felt he posed a safety risk.
“They had serious concerns that this individual was there not to just simply use the range but for purposes they were concerned about and their concerns were justified, he said. “There's nothing in the anti-discrimination laws that prohibits them from making that sort of call.”
The owners of the range, Chad Neal and Nicole Mayhorn, told News On 6 last summer they wanted to ban Muslims after two shootings at military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
"After the Chattanooga attacks, we feel like we shouldn't be arming the terrorist or training the terrorist,” Mayhorn said. "Our customers deemed it necessary. They wouldn't feel safe being on a range with a Muslim practicing as well."
Neal said, "We don't promote hate, we promote safety, and that's one of our practices of being safe."
Muise said he also represented a Florida gun store that was sued by CAIR last year for the same reason. He says CAIR-Florida later filed a motion for that case to be dismissed.