Former Republican U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger
A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the dismissal of a $2 million defamation lawsuit by the Council on American-Islamic Relations against former U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger.
As WorldNetDaily reported, the suit was filed in response to an October 2003 interview with the Charlotte Observer in which the Republican from North Carolina, who retired in 2004 after nine terms, claimed CAIR raised funds for terrorists and did so “with actual malice, wrongful and willful intent to injure and with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity.”
A three-judge appeals court panel in Washington upheld a federal district court’s March 2005 decision.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon had determined Ballenger’s comments were in his capacity as a federal employee, and, therefore, the case should be taken up against the federal government. The doctrine of sovereign immunity, however, bars most lawsuits against the federal government.
A CAIR spokesman at the time the lawsuit was filed said the group wanted to send “a clear message to all those who make malicious and defamatory statements against American Muslims or their institutions that they will be held accountable in a court of law.”
In its lawsuit, CAIR said Ballenger’s “defamatory statements” harmed the group’s reputation and were “not protected speech because he did not make them within the scope of his role as a member of the House of Representatives.”
In the October interview, Ballenger, claimed the stress of living across the street from CAIR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., was partly to blame for the breakup of his 50-year marriage.
He later downplayed the remarks, stating his family was concerned after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and during anthrax scares in Congress.
“I was quoting my wife’s feelings,” he said. “I could give a hoot about the Muslims across the street.”
According to the Observer’s October 2003 story, Ballenger called CAIR a “fund-raising arm” for terrorist groups and said he reported CAIR to the FBI and CIA.
The couple’s proximity to CAIR headquarters, just down the street from the Capitol, “bugged the hell” out of his wife, he said.
“Diagonally across from my house, up goes a sign – CAIR the fund-raising arm for Hezbollah,” said Ballenger, according to the Observer, referring to the Lebanese group regarded by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. “I reported them to the FBI and CIA.”
Ballenger told the Charlotte paper his wife, a homemaker, was anxious about all the activity at CAIR headquarters, including people unloading boxes and women “wearing hoods,” or headscarves, going in and out of the office building on New Jersey Avenue.
“That’s two and a half blocks from the Capitol,” he added, “and they could blow it up.”
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper responded in the Observer story.
“This is out-and-out bigotry,” he said. “It’s unworthy of an elected official at the national level. You wonder what he’s been doing in Congress if this is the kind of analysis he does: ‘You’re a Muslim, so you’re guilty.'”
But the lawsuit was an unusual move for CAIR, Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes said in 2003, noting its documented ties to terrorist groups.
CAIR is a spin-off of the Islamic Association for Palestine, identified by two former FBI counterterrorism chiefs as a “front group” for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Several CAIR leaders have been convicted on terror-related charges.
“I have always thought that they would be wary of engaging in a lawsuit of this sort, particularly one that associates them with terrorism, because of the discovery that will follow,” Piples told WND. “So, this would seem to suggest that the leadership in CAIR is feeling confident.”
Pipes saw the suit as a form of intimidation, “an attempt to shut down political discourse.”
“They’ve gone out of their way to take obscure statements in a local newspaper and give them national prominence,” he said. “This is not something that was foisted on them.”
CAIR’s leaders also have provided evidence the group has aims beyond civil-rights advocacy.
As WorldNetDaily reported, CAIR co-founder Omar Ahmad was cited by a California newspaper in 1998 declaring the Quran should be America’s highest authority.
He also was reported to have said Islam is not in America to be equal to any other religion but to be dominant.
Hooper himself indicated in a 1993 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he wants to see the United States become a Muslim country.
“I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future,” Hooper told the paper. “But I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.”
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