ACLU Urges Federal Appeals Court To Lift Ban On Renowned Scholar

April 28, 2008 12:00 am

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Exclusion Of Tariq Ramadan Violates Americans’ First Amendment Rights

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a brief in a federal court today in an appeal challenging the government’s refusal to grant a visa to renowned Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan. The ACLU maintains that the government’s stated reason for barring the scholar is a pretext and that Ramadan, a leading European academic whose work addresses Muslim identity and the role of Islam in democratic societies, remains banned from the country because of his political viewpoints.

“The government’s stated reason for excluding Professor Ramadan is transparently pretextual,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The government has no legal basis for denying Americans the opportunity to meet with Professor Ramadan, hear his views, and engage him in debate. It’s raw censorship. By barring Professor Ramadan, the government is unlawfully preventing United States citizens and residents from hearing ideas that they have a constitutional right to hear.”

In December, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty of the Southern District of New York ruled that Ramadan could be denied entry into the U.S. based on small donations he made between 1998 and 2002 to a Swiss charity that provides aid to Palestinians. The organization operates lawfully in Europe to this day, but the Bush administration claims that the organization has supported Hamas.

Siding with the executive branch, Judge Crotty ruled that material support laws enacted in 2005 could be applied retroactively to donations that Professor Ramadan had made as many as seven years before. He also ruled that the government could rely on the material support laws to bar Professor Ramadan even in the absence of any evidence that Professor Ramadan knew that the Swiss charity was supporting Hamas.

Judge Crotty himself admitted that it was a nearly insurmountable task for Ramadan to definitively prove he was not aware of the Swiss charity’s alleged ties to Hamas, but he nevertheless required such a showing. He wrote, “The [material support] statute imposes a heavy burden: it requires Professor Ramadan to prove a negative, and to do so by clear and convincing proof.” In addition, Judge Crotty’s ruling gave extraordinary deference to the government: “Once the consular official has made this decision” to exclude a foreign scholar, he writes, “it is not the Court’s role…to second guess the result.”

“Although the U.S. government’s actions in my case have been arbitrary and misguided, I am heartened by the unflagging support I’ve received from Americans who are committed to fairness and the open exchange of ideas,” said Ramadan. “I am encouraged by the emerging debate within the U.S. about the importance of renewing our shared commitment to democratic ideals. And I am hopeful that one day I will once again be able to enter the U.S. to meet with Americans and continue my work with American scholars.”

The government originally revoked Ramadan’s visa in 2004 based upon on the so-called “ideological exclusion” provision of the Patriot Act – a provision that applies to individuals who have “endorsed or espoused” terrorism. This prevented Ramadan from taking up a tenured teaching post at the University of Notre Dame. The government later abandoned its reliance on the ideological exclusion provision when it could not produce any evidence that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism. Ramadan has been a consistent and vocal critic of terrorism and those who use it.

Ramadan is now affiliated with the University of Oxford. He has been invited to speak at numerous conferences and events in the United States, but his exclusion prevents him from accepting these invitations.

“Banning people from the country because of their ideas threatens political debate inside the United States,” said Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the NYCLU. “The government should not be using immigration laws as instruments of censorship to stigmatize and exclude its critics and to control the ideas that Americans can hear.”

Today’s brief stems from a lawsuit filed in January 2006 by the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union 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 now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Melissa Goodman, Nasrina Bargzie, Lucas Guttentag and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU, Eisenberg of the NYCLU, 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 brief filed today is available at:
www.aclu.org/safefree/exclusion/35052lgl20080428.html

More information about the Ramadan case, the history of ideological exclusion, and the ACLU’s separate lawsuit concerning the exclusion of South African scholar Adam Habib, is available at:
www.aclu.org/exclusion

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