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"We May Disagree, But Our Future is Common"

We can all agree that the First Amendment protects a person’s right to say, to hear, and to engage in debate about, controversial subjects and views.
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June 9, 2010

Whether you agree or disagree with White House correspondent Helen Thomas’s recent remarks, we can all agree that the First Amendment protects a person’s right to say, to hear, and to engage in debate about, controversial subjects and views. Indeed, one of the most important functions of the First Amendment is that it protects Americans’ rights to hear many points of view, including (and sometimes most importantly) ideas they may disagree with.

This very principle motivated an exciting event the ACLU, American Association of University Professors, PEN American Center, and Slate hosted in April: a panel discussion with Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford, and a renowned academic and leading scholar of the Muslim world.

Today, we have a short video that gives you a taste of that evening’s discussion. We hope it’ll entice you to watch the whole event, which featured a riveting discussion between Professor Ramadan and Dalia Mogahed, Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies; George Packer, New Yorker staff writer; and Joan Wallach Scott, Professor of Social Science at Institute for Advanced Study; and Jacob Weisberg, Editor-in-Chief at the Slate Group.

In 2004, Ramadan was set to start teaching at the University of Notre Dame. But nine days before he and his family was set to move to the United States, the government revoked his visa, invoking the “ideological exclusion” provision, a law enacted as part of the Patriot Act that allows the government to deny entry to noncitizens who have “endorsed or espoused terrorism.”

We filed a lawsuit in 2006 challenging Professor Ramadan’s exclusion on behalf of American organizations that had invited him to speak in the U.S., asserting their First Amendment rights to hear Professor Ramadan’s ideas and engage him in face-to-face debate. In the face of our lawsuit, the government abandoned its claim that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism, but it continued to defend his exclusion on the grounds that he had made small donations to a Swiss charity that the government alleged had given money to Hamas. The district court upheld the government’s denial of a visa to Professor Ramadan but in July 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed that decision, holding that the government had not adequately justified the ban. And just this past January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January signed an order effectively ending the exclusion of Professor Ramadan.

While the government did the right thing in Professor Ramadan’s case, unfortunately, the practice of ideological exclusion is far from dead. In February, we sent a letter to Secretary Clinton to retire the practice for good by issuing agency-wide policy guidance and a systematic review of recent denials based on the applicants’ ideology. As Professor Ramadan stressed in his remarks, open discussion is vital to ensure a vibrant global marketplace of ideas. “We may disagree,” he said, “but our future is common.”

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU’s privacy statement, click here.

Join us in calling on Secretary Clinton to retire the practice of ideological exclusion for good.

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