ACLU In Court In Case Of South African Scholar Banned From U.S.
Professor Adam Habib Among Many Writers And Scholars Denied Entry On Basis Of Political Views
NEW YORK - The
American Civil Liberties Union is in federal court today to present
arguments in the case of a prominent South African scholar who was
denied a visa and is barred from attending speaking engagements in the
U.S. The government has denied Professor Habib a visa on unspecified
national security grounds.
According to the ACLU, the
government denied Professor Adam Habib a visa not because of his
actions but because of his vocal criticism of U.S. foreign policy, and
his exclusion violates the First Amendment rights of organizations that
have invited him to speak at conferences in the United States.
"The government can't censor the
ideas U.S. citizens get to hear and stifle debate with foreign thinkers
by shouting 'national security' without a shred of evidence to back it
up," said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU National
Security Project. "Professor Habib's exclusion is motivated by his
political views and associations, not his actions, and we're asking the
court to immediately end this unconstitutional ban on his entry to the
Habib is a renowned scholar,
sought-after political analyst, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research,
Innovation and Advancement at the University of Johannesburg. He is
also a Muslim who has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and some
U.S. terrorism-related policies. In October 2006, the government
revoked Professor Habib's visa without explanation. The revocation
prevented him from attending a series of meetings with representatives
from the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, the World Bank, Columbia University and the
Gates Foundation. In October 2007, the State Department denied
Professor Habib's application for a new visa. The State Department
claimed that Habib is barred because he has "engaged in terrorist
activities," but refused to explain the basis for this accusation or
provide any evidence to support it.
In December 2008, Judge George A.
O'Toole, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of
Massachusetts ruled that the court had the power to review Professor
Habib's exclusion and that the government must justify its actions.
Thus far, the government has refused to do so.
The ACLU and the ACLU of
Massachusetts filed the lawsuit in 2007 on behalf of organizations that
have invited Professor Habib to speak in the U.S., including the
American Sociological Association, the American Association of
University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights. The lawsuit charges
that the government's exclusion of Professor Habib amounts to
censorship at the border because it prevents U.S. citizens and
residents from hearing speech that is protected by the First Amendment.
"The ideological exclusion of
scholars like Adam Habib violates the First Amendment rights of those
who seek to meet with foreign scholars," said Larry Schwartztol, a
staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "Ideological
exclusion is a form of censorship and it should not be tolerated in a
country committed to free expression and democratic values."
The U.S. denial of a visa to
Professor Habib is part of a larger pattern of "ideological exclusion."
Over the past few years, numerous foreign scholars, human rights
activists and writers – all vocal critics of U.S. policy – have been
barred from the U.S. without explanation or on vague national security
In March, dozens of the nation's
leading academic, free speech and civil rights organizations sent a
letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano
urging them to put an end to the practice of ideological exclusion. The
letter was signed by groups including the ACLU, the National Education
Association and the Rutherford Institute.
In addition to Goodman and
Schwartztol, attorneys in the Habib case are Jameel Jaffer and Judy
Rabinovitz of the ACLU and Sarah Wunsch and John Reinstein of the ACLU
The full text of the letter to Attorney General Holder and Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/
More information about the ACLU's work to end ideological exclusions is available online at: www.aclu.org/exclusion
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.