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Fight Censorship at the Border

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June 24, 2008

Tomorrow in a Boston federal court, Melissa Goodman of the ACLU National Security Project will be challenging the federal government’s refusal to grant a visa to respected South African scholar Adam Habib. Back in the fall, the State Department denied Habib a visa after months of inaction, claiming that he is banned because he has “engaged in terrorist activities,” but the government failed to explain the basis for its inflammatory accusation, let alone provide even a shred of evidence to prove it.

We do know, however, that Habib – a distinguished professor and popular pundit in his home country – has openly objected to the war in Iraq and other U.S. foreign policies. And we have reason to believe that the government is excluding him based on ideological grounds.

By refusing to give Professor Habib a visa, the government is violating the constitutional speech rights of American citizens and residents. How, you ask? Because the right to hear speech is protected by the First Amendment too. Stifling the political debate in this country, the government’s refusal to grant visas to critics of this administration, like Habib and Tariq Ramadan, amounts to nothing less than censorship at the border.

That is why the ACLU filed this lawsuit last year on behalf of organizations that have invited Professor Habib to speak in the U.S. Sherif Fam of one of these groups, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, blogged today about why his organization joined our lawsuit:

Presenting no legitimate reason to deny Dr. Habib an entry visa, the State Department clearly intends to deny the American public access to views which may not conform exactly to the Administration’s views. Besides violating the rights granted by our Constitution, what does that say about our country when we cannot tolerate differences of opinion?

Good question! We’ll keep fighting for every American’s right to enjoy the vigorous protection of speech that is guaranteed by the Constitution.