Judgment Marks Possible First Use of Virginia Anti-Discrimination Law to Protect Against Online Hate
Washington, DC — Last Wednesday, a federal court entered a Judgment in favor of Virginia attorney, activist and author Qasim Rashid, awarding him $10,000 in damages as the result of his lawsuit against a North Carolina man who used Twitter to attack his Muslim identity and repeatedly threaten violence. The judgment represents what appears to be the first time a Virginia anti-discrimination law has been used to protect against online hate and also one of the rare times when someone has faced serious consequences for spreading anti-Muslim hate. Mr. Rashid was represented by Muslim Advocates and Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP.
Qasim Rashid was the Democratic nominee for Virginia’s 1st congressional district in 2020. He previously served as the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and is the author of the children’s book “Hannah and the Ramadan Gift.” In March 2018, Joseph Cecil Vandevere used Twitter to send Mr. Rashid a picture of a man who had been violently attacked and lynched as well as several messages filled with anti-Muslim slurs and threats. Mr. Vandevere previously served time in federal prison after being sentenced to 10 months for the threats and was linked by the FBI to a separate incident involving a threatening comment posted on the Facebook page of a Florida synagogue. Last May, Mr. Rashid sued Mr. Vandevere.
In addition to the $10,000 award, the Court found that by making threats based on Mr. Rashid’s Muslim faith, Mr. Vandevere violated a Virginia anti-discrimination and anti-harassment law. This marks what appears to be the first time that this law has been successfully used to go after someone making online threats.
“Every day, American Muslims are bombarded with the same kinds of vile hate and threats I received because of my faith. That’s why I chose to take a stand and show the world that anti-Muslim hate should have consequences,” said Qasim Rashid. “It is my fervent hope that this judgment marks a turning point when online hate, not just against Muslims, but also against all marginalized communities is met with condemnation and consequences. No one should have to worry for their family’s safety just because of their identity.”
“Online threats and hate against Muslims so rarely result in any consequences despite the deadly serious toll they can have on American Muslims,” said Muslim Advocates Supervising Staff Attorney Stephanie Correa. “We hope Mr. Rashid’s victory sends a message that anti-Muslim hate should never go unpunished and that the Court’s application of Virginia’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment law gives other victims of online hate a new tool to fight back and win justice.”
“We have been proud to represent Mr. Rashid—a powerful voice for many who have been unfairly marginalized—and to work towards justice so that our diverse backgrounds can bring us together, not drive us apart,” said Hunton Andrews Kurth Counsel Ryan Rich.
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.