For Immediate Release
Federal Appeals Court Rules in Favor of US Organizations That Challenged Exclusion of Prominent Muslim Scholar
NEW YORK - A
federal appeals court today found that the U.S. government had not
adequately justified its denial of a visa to a Swiss professor and
leading scholar of the Muslim world. The decision, which reverses a
ruling of a lower federal court, comes in a case in which the American
Civil Liberties Union contended that the government's exclusion from
the U.S. of Professor Tariq Ramadan violated the First Amendment rights
of organizations inside the United States that had invited Ramadan to
meet with and speak to their members.
In today's ruling, the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Second Circuit found the First Amendment rights of U.S.
organizations are at stake when foreign scholars, artists, politicians
and others are excluded, quoting from a 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Kleindienst v. Mandel
that the organizations have a First Amendment right to "'hear, speak,
and debate with' a visa applicant." The appeals court also found that
the government cannot exclude an individual from the U.S. on the basis
of "material support" for terrorism without affording him the
"opportunity to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he
did not know, and reasonably should not have known, that the recipient
of his contributions was a terrorist organization."
"We're very pleased with the appeals
court's decision. The court properly found that the exclusion of
foreign scholars like Ramadan implicates the First Amendment rights of
Americans, that the judiciary has a role in policing the government's
exclusion of foreign scholars, and that in this case the government
simply has not offered a constitutionally adequate justification for
its actions," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National
Security Project, who argued the case before the appeals court. "As
we've been emphasizing from the outset of this case, the exclusion of
foreign scholars on ideological grounds skews and impoverishes academic
and political debate inside the United States. The government should
not be using the immigration laws as instruments of censorship."
Ramadan was invited to teach at the
University of Notre Dame in 2004 but the U.S. government revoked his
visa, citing a statute that applies to those who have "endorsed or
espoused" terrorism. In January 2006, the ACLU and the New York Civil
Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging Professor Ramadan's
exclusion on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American
Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center. After
the ACLU filed suit, 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.
"I am very gratified with the
court's decision," said Ramadan. "I am eager to engage once again with
Americans in the kinds of face-to-face discussions that are central to
academic exchange and crucial to bridging cultural divides."
The case will now be sent back to
the lower court for further proceedings, but the ACLU expressed hope
that the Obama administration would end Professor Ramadan's exclusion
without further litigation.
"Given today's decision, we hope
that the Obama administration will immediately end Professor Ramadan's
exclusion," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National
Security Project. "We also encourage the new administration to
reconsider the exclusion of other foreign scholars, writers and artists
who were barred from the country by the Bush administration on
Attorneys on the case, now called Academy of Religion v. Napolitano,
are Jaffer, Goodman, Lucas Guttentag and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU,
Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU, and New York immigration lawyer Claudia
Slovinsky. The lawsuit was originally brought against then-Department
of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and then-Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice.
More information about the Ramadan
case and the ACLU's separate lawsuit concerning the exclusion of South
African scholar Adam Habib 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.