Religious leaders from a number of faiths spoke out in Manhattan Tuesday against the New York City Police Department's monitoring of area Muslims while a new poll shows a majority of Big Apple voters believe police have acted appropriately.
Members of the clergy gathered at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights to call on the NYPD and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to end the reported surveillance of Muslim-owned businesses, mosques and Islamic student organizations and the so-called "stop-and-frisk" policy.
They say all these practices amount to racial and religious profiling and want increased transparency.
One leader called the policy immoral, while another compared it to terrorism itself.
"Where you don't actually have to hit every person in the population in order to cause the entire group to feel a terror and to change their behaviors," said the Reverend Stephen Phelps of the Riverside Church.
Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly maintain the department has not done anything wrong, and say heavy surveillance is needed to protect the city.
According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, Kelly's approval rating has risen by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
The poll also finds more than 80 percent of respondents think the NYPD has been effective in its counter-terrorism efforts.
Fifty-eight percent think the police department has acted appropriately toward Muslims, while 29 percent believe it has been unfair.
That's a slight jump from the 24 percent who thought the NYPD was unfairly targeting Muslims in a February poll.
However, a poll by Baruch College found New Yorkers more closely divided over the focus on Muslims to prevent terror attacks.
Bloomberg kept up his defense of the department on Tuesday, telling reporters on Long Island that the police work is critical.
"We have to know, when it comes to intelligence, where things might happen. And we have to know if things do happen, how do we respond," said Bloomberg. "We are very careful to obey the Constitution of the United States and all federal laws."
Assurances that the surveillance is legal does not go far enough for some.
"'Legal,' this is the word they keep saying over and over. As if something being legal makes it morally right," said Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York.
Religious leaders are now pressing Mayor Bloomberg to take action. They fired off a letter to City Hall, appealing to the mayor's support for religious freedom and urging him to conduct a thorough investigation.