U.S. Groups Renew Legal Challenge to Lift Ban on Muslim Scholar

February 5, 2007 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ACLU Says Government is Excluding Foreign Scholars Because of Political Views

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it filed a new legal complaint challenging the federal government’s continued exclusion of prominent Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan. The complaint also challenges the Patriot Act’s “ideological exclusion” provision, which authorizes the government to deny visas to foreign citizens on the basis of their political views.

“The government is excluding Professor Ramadan from the United States not because he is a threat to national security but because of his politics, and that has been clear since the government first revoked Professor Ramadan’s visa in 2004,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s National Security Program and lead counsel in the case. “The government is using the immigration laws as a means of censoring academic and political debate inside the United States.”

The new complaint comes in a lawsuit filed in January 2006 by the ACLU and New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center, who say that the government is preventing their members from meeting with Ramadan and from hearing constitutionally protected speech. Ramadan was set to teach at the University of Notre Dame in 2004 until the government barred him from re-entering the United States by invoking the Patriot Act’s “ideological exclusion” provision, which applies to those who have “endorsed or espoused” terrorism. When challenged in court, government attorneys failed to produce any evidence showing that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism, and during the course of litigation they abandoned the allegation altogether.

In June 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Crotty ordered the government to stop stonewalling and either grant Ramadan a 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.

After more than two years of investigating Ramadan and faced with a deadline imposed by the court, in September 2006 the State Department offered a new pretext for excluding Ramadan: that he had donated about 600 Euros between 1998 and 2002 to French and Swiss organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians – information Ramadan voluntarily gave to the State Department several months prior. Although the organizations are legitimate charities in Europe, in 2003 the Bush administration added the groups to a blacklist because they allegedly provide “material support” to Hamas. In the amended complaint, which was filed late Friday, the ACLU argues that the donations were not a basis for inadmissibility at the time they were made and the current material support provision cannot be applied retroactively.

In recent months, the government has excluded numerous writers, scholars and activists for reasons that appear to be ideological, said the ACLU. In October 2006, South African professor Adam Habib, a prominent anti-war activist, was prevented from coming to the United States to meet with scholars in New York, the National Institute of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Bank. In February 2006, Dr. Waskar Ari, a Bolivian historian and outspoken advocate for the rights of indigenous people in Latin America, was prevented from taking a faculty post at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln because the government revoked his visa and refused to act on his pending application. Likewise, John Milios, a Greek professor of Marxist economic theory, and Basque historian and activist Iñaki Egaña, were both excluded in June 2006.

“Academic discourse relies on an open exchange of diverse ideas but that vital exchange is thwarted when the government prevents foreign scholars from coming to the United States to speak with American audiences,” said ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman. “By banning foreign scholars, the government is sending the message that America is afraid of critical thought.”

In addition to Jaffer and Goodman, attorneys in the Ramadan case are 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.

For more information on ideological exclusion go to www.aclu.org/exclusion

The complaint is online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/28250lgl20070202.html

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release