On the morning of March 20, 2002, while television cameras recorded the events for the evening news, dozens of federal agents entered and searched the offices of several Islamic educational and religious organizations in Northern Virginia. The agents were searching, it appears, for evidence that those organizations contributed money to international groups known to have sponsored terrorist acts. By most public accounts, the targeted institutions were regarded as moderate and progressive voices in American Islam. For that reason, the searches sent shock waves through the American Muslim community. Muslims who had supported the Administration's domestic war on terrorism began to wonder out loud: If religious institutions like these are suspect in the eyes of the government, then what Islamic organization is not? Is this a war on terrorism, or a war on Islam? In response to protests from a variety of American Muslim organizations, the government was quick to point out that the searches were authorized by warrants issued by a federal magistrate. But as months have passed with little indication that the searches produced evidence of any crime, questions about the government's choice of targets and tactics continue to trouble many observers. Why did the government choose the tactic of multiple, coordinated and well publicized searches rather than the simpler, quieter alternative of a subpoena? Before searching religious institutions, did government agents and attorneys consider the harm that would come to reputable religious institutions from the searches? If so, did government officials conclude that other factors-like the risk that subpoenaed records might be destroyed-outweighed the potential harm to religious expression? Or does the government now regard the chilling of religious expression by "suspect" organizations to be a legitimate goal of law enforcement in combating terrorism? Despite the importance of these questions to the American Muslim community in particular, and to the community of faith-based organizations more generally, solid answers are hard to find. In this brief essay, I will not attempt to unravel the bits and pieces of publicly available data that might answer these questions as a matter of fact. Instead, I will try to put the searches in legal context by addressing two basic questions. First, how does our law account for the damage that may result from a search warrant where the search by itself may stifle religious expression? Second, does that law make sense in light of the law enforcement tactics used, and the religious interests at stake, in the domestic war against terrorism?
John G. Douglass, Raiding Islam: Searches that Target Religious Institutions, 19 J.L. & Religion 95 (2004).