The Museum of the Bible faces a racial-discrimination lawsuit from an Egyptian Christian who says the museum reported him to the FBI as a possible terrorist threat
- An Egyptian Christian is suing the Museum of the Bible, alleging that he was racially profiled while visiting the private museum with his church group.
- Erian Melek Hetta says in a court filing that he was interrogated by security officers who later told the FBI that he was a possible terrorist or security threat.
- "The Museum's conduct in this case begs the question: would the Museum of the Bible have racially profiled Jesus?" Hetta's lawyer said in a statement.
- The Museum of the Bible is a $500 million private museum founded by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green. A spokesperson for the museum said it does not comment on ongoing legal matters.
The Museum of the Bible is facing a lawsuit after an Egyptian visitor endured what he called a "Kafkaesque nightmare" at the museum.
According to a lawsuit filed in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday, 30-year-old Erian Melek Hetta visited the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, in January 2018. Hetta, who was born in Egypt and says he came to the United States due to religious persecution for his Christian faith, is suing the Museum of the Bible alleging racial profiling, discrimination, and humiliation.Hetta claims he was racially profiled and interrogated by security officers when visiting the museum. Further, the complaint states that the Museum of the Bible continued to investigate Hetta and advised the FBI that he was a possible terrorist, security, or criminal threat.
"Mr. Hetta's visit to the Bible Museum turned into a Kafkaesque ordeal of humiliation, detention, interrogation and ultimately an FBI counter-terrorism investigation caused by the Museum's false reporting," Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Hetta's lawyer and executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said in a statement.
"The Museum's conduct in this case begs the question: would the Museum of the Bible have racially profiled Jesus?" Verheyden-Hilliard added.
The Museum of the Bible is a $500 million private museum that opened in November 2017 in Washington, DC. Much of the funding came from the Green family, led by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, who is the museum's chairman.
"We are aware of the claim but do not comment on ongoing legal matters," the Museum of the Bible said in a statement to Business Insider.
A 'Kafkaesque ordeal'
At the center of the lawsuit is Hetta's visit to the Museum of the Bible on January 20, 2018.
In the complaint, Hetta claims officers interrupted him as he was socializing with his church group and brought him to a different room. The officers allegedly questioned why Hetta had been sitting alone on a bench earlier in the day. Hetta says he told them he was waiting for a friend, who did not have a cell phone and was running late.
According to the filing, officers further questioned Hetta - who is a Coptic Christian - about his church's denomination and whether it was "Christian." A plainclothes officer told Hetta he was "suspicious because of where he was sitting," on a bench near the museum entrance, the filing states.
"Without prompting, [a different security officer] blurted out that they were 'not racially profiling' him," reads the filing.
After 20 to 25 minutes, Hetta says, he was allowed to leave and return to his church group meet-up. The next day, he reported the incident as discrimination in public accommodation to the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
Meanwhile, the Museum of the Bible continued to investigate Hetta, including reviewing his social media profiles, creating a dossier on him, and alerting the FBI, the court filing states.
"The Museum falsely advised the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that Mr. Hetta was a possible terrorist, security and/or criminal threat," reads the complaint. "The Federal Bureau of investigation then opened a counterterrorism investigation into Plaintiff Hetta."The complaint states that the FBI questioned Hetta's housemate and landlord and visited his residence. Hetta says in the court filing that he met with an FBI agent who stated he was "looking into concerns that the Museum of the Bible had asserted about Mr. Hetta related to terrorism." According to Hetta, the agent told him that the Museum of the Bible advised that Hetta might be a terrorist because of, among other reasons, his legal names: Hetta and Melek.
The lawsuit alleges that the Museum of the Bible, as well as employees who interacted with Hetta, violated federal civil-rights laws and the Fourth Amendment. In the complaint, Hetta requests - among other things - that the Museum of the Bible develop new policies to prevent discrimination, destroy any files created related to him, and award compensatory and punitive damages.