WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 (JTA) — A New York federal judge is allowing a lawsuit brought against two legislators by a Nation of Islam-affiliated security firm to proceed. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and New York State Assemblyman Jules Polonetsky (D-Brooklyn), who in 1994 began urging federal and state governments to terminate contracts with businesses affiliated with the Nation of Islam, are set to stand trial on charges that they “conspired” to deprive X-Men Security of its constitutional rights. The firm, which patrolled a Brooklyn housing project financed by both federal and state funding, lost its contract in 1996 as a result of the lawmakers’ efforts. The two could be held liable for the value of the lost contract and other damages. X-Men was one of several such companies whose contracts were terminated or allowed to lapse after members of Congress, New York state officials and Jewish groups called on federal and state governments to examine Nation of Islam-affiliated businesses that receive taxpayer funding through contracts. They charged that the Nation of Islam is not an equal opportunity employer and stands in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. They also referred to the racist and anti-Semitic views espoused by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, saying that taxpayers’ funds should not be used to subsidize bigotry. Specifically, they charged that security companies such as X-Men were using their positions to proselytize on behalf of the Nation of Islam. In his opinion last month, U.S. District Judge Leo Glasser said such acts “allegedly exerted pressure” on the owners of the public housing project to cancel the contract with X-Men. He said that is “sufficient to raise an inference that X-Men were retaliated against based on their association with the Nation of Islam and Farrakhan” and that its First Amendment rights were violated. The two politicians, the judge said, may have infringed on the X-Men’s equal protection rights by having the company treated “selectively” on the basis of religion. The judge, meanwhile, dismissed two charges brought against the lawmakers related to due process. In issuing the preliminary ruling, the judge only concluded that there was sufficient basis for a trial based on the plaintiff’s allegations. He did not rule on the merits of the charges. King, for his part, expressed confidence he ultimately will be exonerated. “There’s absolutely no evidence of any type of religious discrimination,” King said in an interview. “This was strictly a government decision, and in this particular case, the X-Men contract, I had no involvement.” Adam Segall, New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said: “Upon a real evaluation of the facts as they really are — and not taken as the plaintiff alleges — it will be very clear that there’s no issue here that the defendants should be worried about.” Marc Stern, co-director of the American Jewish Congress’ legal department, stressed that the two lawmakers have a strong defense, particularly because they, too, can assert free-speech rights. Nevertheless, he called the ruling “troublesome.” “It remains problematic that this suit is going ahead because the message for government officials is `just lay off — it’s too expensive and burdensome to bother with Farrakhan,’ and I suspect that’s a good part of the reason for the lawsuit,” Stern said.
Judge rules Nation of Islam firm can sue federal, state legislators