ACLU In Court Today to Challenge U.S. Exclusion of Renowned Muslim Scholar
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Group Wants Patriot Act Provision Struck Down
NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union appeared before a federal district court today to challenge the government's exclusion from the U.S. of renowned Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan. The group charged that Ramadan, a leading European academic whose work addresses critical issues including Muslim identity and the role of Islam in democratic societies, has been banned due to his political viewpoints.
"The government is barring Professor Ramadan not because of his actions but because of his ideas," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU's National Security Project, who argued the case today. "The ideological exclusion of scholars like Tariq Ramadan impoverishes political and academic debate inside the United States and violates the First Amendment rights of those who seek to meet with foreign scholars, hear their views, and engage them in debate. Ideological exclusion is a form of censorship and it should not be tolerated in a country committed to democratic values."
The government originally revoked Ramadan's visa in 2004 based upon on the so-called "ideological exclusion" provision of the Patriot Act. This prevented Ramadan from taking up a tenured teaching post at the University of Notre Dame. The government later abandoned its claim when it could not produce any evidence that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism, a standard for the law. In fact, Ramadan has been a consistent and vocal critic of terrorism and those who use it.
Although the government no longer relies on the Patriot Act provision to exclude Ramadan - instead relying on another claim - the ACLU continued to argue today that the provision should be struck down as unconstitutional. The provision ostensibly applies to those who have "endorsed or espoused" terrorism but its terms are sweeping and vague. The State Department has interpreted the provision to apply to foreign nationals who have voiced "irresponsible expressions of opinion."
"Although the so-called ideological exclusion provision is ostensibly aimed at those who 'endorse terrorism,' its terms are vague and subject to political manipulation," said Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "The State Department interpretation of this provision demonstrates how the provision can be used to exclude foreign academics who express views that the government regards as 'irresponsible.' The provision violates the rights of Americans to hear constitutionally protected speech by preventing them from engaging in face-to-face dialogue and debate with foreign scholars."
The ACLU today also challenged the government's continued exclusion of Ramadan based on small donations he made between 1998 and 2002 to a Swiss charity that provides aid to Palestinians. Although the organization operates lawfully in Europe even today, the Bush administration added the group to a blacklist in 2003 because it allegedly provided "material support" to Hamas. The government has argued that material support laws enacted in 2005 should be applied to the donations even though the donations were made before the Swiss charity was blacklisted and before the material support laws were enacted.
"Professor Ramadan's small humanitarian donations were completely permissible at the time he made them, and he had no reason to know that the charity was supporting Hamas, if indeed it was," said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. "The government seems to be grasping at straws to prevent U.S. audiences from engaging Professor Ramadan and his ideas."
Today's argument was part of a lawsuit filed in January 2006 by the ACLU and the NYCLU on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors, and the PEN American Center.
The case is AAR v. Chertoff and is in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
In addition to Jaffer, Eisenberg, and Goodman, attorneys in the case are Lucas Guttentag and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU, and New York immigration lawyer Claudia Slovinsky. The lawsuit was brought against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The legal documents filed in the case are available at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/26133res20060712.html
More information on ideological exclusion is online at: www.aclu.org/exclusion
A new ACLU report, The Excluded - Ideological Exclusion and the War on Ideas, addressing the history of ideological exclusion and including profiles of some of its victims, can be found online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/exclusion/32357pub20071025.html