Groups Condemn State Department's Decision to Deny Visa to Oxford University Professor Who Criticized U.S. Policies

September 25, 2006 12:00 am

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NEW YORK - The United States government has denied a visa to Oxford University Professor Tariq Ramadan despite dropping its previous allegation that he endorsed terrorism, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

The ACLU, American Academy of Religion, American Association of University Professors, New York Civil Liberties Union and PEN American Center sued the government for preventing their members from meeting with Ramadan and hearing constitutionally protected speech. The lawsuit came after the government invoked the Patriot Act's "ideological exclusion" provision to prevent Ramadan from accepting a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame in 2004. The provision applies to those who have "endorsed or espoused" terrorism, but government attorneys failed to produce any evidence showing that Ramadan had done so.

"Although the U.S. government has found a new pretext for denying Professor Ramadan's visa, the history of this case makes clear that the government's real concern is not with Professor Ramadan but with his ideas," said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer, who is lead counsel in this case. "The government is using the immigration laws to silence an articulate critic and to censor political debate inside the United States."

In June, a federal court rejected the government's attempt to indefinitely delay a judgment on Ramadan's visa application, and ordered the government to grant the visa or explain why it would not do so. The court also issued a ruling stating that the government cannot bar non-citizens from the United States simply because of their political views.

This week, after more than two years of investigating Ramadan and faced with a deadline imposed by the court, the State Department offered a new pretext for excluding Professor Ramadan: that he had donated about 600 Euros to French and Swiss organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians-information Ramadan voluntarily provided to the State Department months ago. Although the organizations are legitimate charities in France, the Bush administration contends that the groups gave funds to Hamas and has invoked a law known as the "material support" law, which allows the government to exclude individuals whom it believes have supported terrorism.

However, as United States District Judge Paul A. Crotty noted, Ramadan has been a consistent and vocal critic of terrorism. In fact, Ramadan was appointed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to a United Kingdom government taskforce to combat terrorism and was recognized by Time magazine as one of 100 "innovators" of the 21st century. Time also labeled Ramadan "the leading Islamic thinker among Europe's second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants." Ramadan currently teaches at the University of Oxford.

"I am deeply distressed by the government's decision to exclude Professor Ramadan, an eminent and respected scholar, from the United States," said Roger Bowen, General Secretary of the American Association of University Professors. "As the court has recognized, no form of communication substitutes for in-person dialogue. At this time more than ever, it is crucially important that academic discourse remain unfettered, and the government has struck a blow against that fundamental principle."

The American groups, which had each invited Ramadan to speak with their respective members, say that the government is excluding Professor Ramadan because it disagrees with his political views.

"The American Academy of Religion is dismayed to be deprived of the opportunity for discussion and exchange with Ramadan who was to address our annual meeting in November," said Diana L. Eck, President of the American Academy of Religion. "Ramadan is one of today's leading Muslim theologians and his voice is vital to the contemporary discussion of Islam in the West. His ongoing exclusion sends exactly the wrong message about America's commitment to the free exchange of ideas."

The groups further criticized the government's use of the material support law as a "six degrees of separation" approach to block Ramadan and others from entering the United States.

"We are deeply disappointed that in light of Judge Crotty's ruling the government sought the narrowest procedural opening to deny Professor Ramadan a visa, and thereby to deny us the opportunity our colleagues in Europe enjoy to engage him directly and debate his ideas with him in the United States," said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "An overly broad 'material support' law should not be used as a back-door route for ideological exclusion."

The ACLU has challenged the constitutionality of material support laws in numerous other cases. In a recent California case, a federal judge struck down part of the statute as unconstitutionally vague. The government appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the ACLU and a coalition of human rights groups argued that the statute unconstitutionally interferes with efforts to provide humanitarian aid to civilian populations in war zones.

In addition to Jaffer, attorneys in the Ramadan case are Melissa Goodman, Judy Rabinovitz and Lucas Guttentag of the ACLU, Arthur 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.

A statement from Tariq Ramadan is online at:

More information on ideological exclusion is online at:

The ACLU brief in the California case, Humanitarian Law Project v. Gonzales, is online at:

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