Security guards at the Empire State Building in New York City forcibly removed a Muslim family who, without disturbing any tourists, had knelt down and begun to pray on the skyscraper’s observation deck, according to a new lawsuit.
Fahad Tirmizi, his wife Amina, and the couple’s two children were visiting the popular attraction on July 2 at 11:00 p.m., a time when the family’s “religious beliefs require them to recite the evening prayers wherever they may be at the time,” according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan District Court on Tuesday.
They “walked over to an isolated area of the Observatory where they began to pray silently” when two security guards approached, the complaint states. One of them allegedly “put his hands” on Mr. Tirmizi and “menacingly poked” at his chest, loudly asserting that they were not allowed to pray there.
All four family members, who reside in Farmingville – a community on Long Island – were then “forcibly escorted...to the Observatory elevator, down to the lobby, and out of the Empire State Building entirely,” the suit claims.
The family is reportedly seeking $5 million in damages and has named the Empire State Building management company, the building, the security firm, and the two unnamed security guards as defendants. The Tirmizi's say that their removal was a violation of their First and 14th Amendment rights, along with a number of civil rights laws guaranteed by New York City and New York State.
Brandy Bergman, a spokeswoman for Empire State Realty Trust, told CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia that the “claims are totally without merit and we will respond to them in court.”
Likewise, the family has issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and saying that they were trying to enjoy the view of nighttime New York like the rest of the visitors. Fahad Tirmizi told Rebecca Fishbein of Gothamist.com that the ejection was especially shocking because they had prayed at locations in the city with no trouble.
“Earlier that same day at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, I needed to pray the afternoon prayer and wanted to make sure I’m not in the way, so I confirmed with a police officer who was standing right there to make sure it was a good spot,” he said Wednesday. “The officer responded ‘Go for it, it’s not illegal to pray.’ Later on, we went to the Empire State Building Observatory. We weren’t doing anything wrong, we just wanted to enjoy the view like everyone else.”
Philip Hines, the attorney hired by the family, said the sudden reaction was less than innocent, declaring “an unwritten rule or policy was being enforced by security when they removed these people.”
“They weren’t bothering anybody, they were out of the way, and for them to be thrown out of the building is just an ignorant and shameful exercise in discriminatory conduct,” he said.