(Minneapolis, MN – May 5, 2020) – Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison recently intervened in the lawsuit filed by the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) last November on behalf of Sally Ness, a grandmother who was tired of the City of Bloomington’s failure to enforce its own ordinances against a local mosque and its associated school.
For many years, Ness has been documenting the public controversy surrounding the Dar al-Farooq mosque (DAF) and its associated school, the Success Academy, both of which are located in her Bloomington neighborhood.
Ness would often film zoning and other violations committed by DAF and the Success Academy that were disruptive to the neighborhood. Ness would publicly disseminate this information via a blog and Facebook page. She would also bring these violations to the attention of the City, which ignored her concerns and the similar concerns of her neighbors.
Last August, City police officers confronted Ness and warned her that because people associated with DAF and the Success Academy felt “threatened” by her filming she should “stop” because she could be charged with a felony for violating the Minnesota harassment statute. Per the City’s official police report: “Ness was advised that she could be charged with harassment if the parents and principal felt intimidated by her actions.”
The lawsuit alleges that the City of Bloomington, two City police officers, and the Hennepin County Attorney violated Ness’s rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments by threatening to enforce local and state laws against her for filming information that is in public view regarding a public controversy—information that Ness collected for the purpose of disseminating it to the public via the Internet and social media.
Attorney General Ellison intervened in the lawsuit to defend the Minnesota statute, which he claims prohibits “video harassment,” and its enforcement against Ness. In his press release, Ellison stated the following:
“Attorney General Ellison intervened in a lawsuit that challenges the law filed by plaintiff Sally Ness, who has videotaped congregants at Dar al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington without their consent, causing those congregants and their children to feel intimidated and afraid.”
Late yesterday, AFLC filed a full-throated response to Ellison’s brief in which AFLC highlighted the numerous errors in the Attorney General’s arguments. As stated in AFLC’s response:
“Similar to the City and County Defendants, the Attorney General asserts that Plaintiff’s ‘planned filming activities are not subject to absolute protection under the First Amendment’ (AG Mem. at 2), which, per Defendants and the Attorney General, means that Plaintiff’s filming is either accorded no protection or measurably less protection than other speech activity. Also similar to the City and County Defendants, the Attorney General asserts that the regulation of Plaintiff’s filming activities is merely a regulation of conduct and not speech protected by the First Amendment. (AG Mem. at 9-13). Both assertions serve as the necessary premises for the Attorney General’s arguments, and both assertions are legally and factually wrong.”
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise explained:
“The First Amendment fully protects our client’s right to gather information through photographing and videotaping. And this is particularly the case here because she is filming public matters related to a public controversy. As the courts have explained, filming matters of public interest is fully protected by the First Amendment. Consequently, the Attorney General seeks to make a crime out of what under the Constitution cannot be a crime. Indeed, every news reporter in Minnesota would be surprised to learn that their Attorney General doesn’t believe that their filming for the purpose of exposing matters of public concern is protected by the First Amendment, particularly if the subject of their exposé objects.”
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi commented:
“It is no surprise Minnesota’s Attorney General has intervened in this lawsuit to oppose the First Amendment in favor of protecting Islam from public criticism of any sort. Attorney General Ellison is a former member of the anti-American, Jew-hating Nation of Islam, an admirer of the rabid black racist Louis Farrakhan, and a card-carrying supporter of, and fundraiser for, the Muslim Brotherhood in America. Ellison’s brief opposing this lawsuit is a tutorial on how Sharia-centric Muslims and progressives seek to destroy our fundamental liberties in the name of protecting Islam from legitimate criticism.”