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Fighting Censorship at the Border

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September 25, 2007

President Bush does a lot of scary Big Brother-type things. The warrantless wiretapping comes to mind first, of course, and there’s also the pervasive surveillance of your comings and goings.

But just as sneaky, and maybe ever scarier, is Bush and his friends at the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State’s attempt to control whose speech you hear. See, they don’t want just anyone coming to our fair shores and spouting off against the war, or criticizing American foreign policy. They’re trying their hardest to keep these naysayers out of the country. One way they do this is by using a provision of the USA Patriot Act called “ideological exclusion,” which lets the administration keep people out, based on their political beliefs. Sometimes they just keep critics out with no explanation or based on vague national security grounds. So far they’ve kept out artists, academics and politicians who don’t agree with the party line.

But it’s not those artists and politicians’ right to free speech we’re concerned about: it’s yours. All Americans have the right not just to express their own opinions but to hear the speech of others, even if they don’t jibe with the Bush administration’s talking points of the day.

That’s why today, we filed a new lawsuit on behalf of the American Sociological Association (ASA) and other groups who invited South African scholar Dr. Adam Habib to speak in the U.S. This past August, the ASA invited Adam to speak at their annual meeting. Adam applied for a visa in advance, but it wasn’t until the last minute that the State Department told Adam that his visa wouldn’t be processed in time for him to attend the meeting. State won’t say why they won’t let Adam into the country. Could it be the fact that he’s spoken out against the Iraq war and other Bush policies? We don’t know, and State isn’t talking. Adam guest-blogged on the Huffington Post today to tell why he’s part of this lawsuit, and what he hopes it will accomplish.

Why do I fight to get into a country where its government obviously does not want me? …First, I have said my relationship with the U.S. extends beyond its government. It is established through my relationships with American citizens. It is also constructed by my fond personal memories…It is part of our world and that should not be taken away by an arbitrary action of a public official.

This is the second ideological exclusion case we’ve filed: the first one was on behalf of the American Academy of Religion and Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan, who the Bush administration charged – and ultimately couldn’t prove – had endorsed terrorism.

To tell the history and show the pervasiveness of ideological exclusion, we’ve launched a new interactive Web feature today that tells the stories of some of the artists, scholars and politicians the U.S. government has excluded since the practice began in 1952 to keep Communists out. It includes the stories of John Lennon, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Nelson Mandela: all individuals who have been kept out at one point in this country’s history. Check it out at

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