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Jarrar v. Harris et al. (Challenge to discrimination by JetBlue & TSA employees against American wearing Arabic T-shirt)


On Aug. 12, 2006, Transportation Security Administration officials and JetBlue Airways personnel prevented Raed Jarrar from boarding a flight at John F. Kennedy Airport until he agreed to cover his T-shirt, which read “We Will Not Be Silent” in English and Arabic. Then they forced Jarrar, a U.S. resident since 2005, to sit at the back of the plane. Jarrar was waiting to board a JetBlue flight to his home in Oakland, Calif., when he was approached by two TSA officials. One of them told Jarrar that he needed to remove his shirt because other passengers were not comfortable with the Arabic script, telling him that wearing a shirt with Arabic writing on it to an airport was like “wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, ‘I am a robber.’” Jarrar asserted his First Amendment right to wear the shirt, but eventually relented to the pressure from the TSA officials and two JetBlue officials who surrounded Jarrar in the gate area and made it clear to him that he would not be able to get on the plane until he covered up his shirt. Jarrar reluctantly covered up his shirt with a new T-shirt provided by the airline.

On Aug. 9, 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a civil rights lawsuit on Jarrar’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The complaint charged that TSA and JetBlue officials violated Jarrar’s civil rights under the First and Fifth Amendments and federal, state and city anti-discrimination laws. The lawsuit revealed that JetBlue and the TSA officials never considered Jarrar a security threat. Nevertheless, after he put on the new shirt, the airline switched his seat from the front to the back of the plane. TSA and JetBlue agreed in December 2008 to settle the lawsuit for $240,000. 

E.D.N.Y., Index No. 07-CV-3299 (CBA) (JO) (direct) 

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