Internationally-Renowned Humanitarian Groups Support Challenge To Unconstitutional "Material Support" Law
ACLU Files Friend-Of-The-Court Brief In U.S. Supreme Court
NEW YORK - The
American Civil Liberties Union today filed a friend-of-the-court brief
on behalf of the Carter Center, Human Rights Watch and several other
human rights and humanitarian organizations in a case before the U.S.
Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of a law that makes it
a crime to provide "material support or resources" to any organization
that the Secretary of State has designated a "foreign terrorist
organization" (FTO). The organizations that joined the brief are
internationally recognized for their efforts to promote peace, further
human rights and alleviate human suffering around the world. According
to the brief, those efforts are imperiled by the vague language of the
material support law, which arguably reaches even speech and advocacy
whose only purpose is to deter future terrorist activity.
"The material support law is so
vague and broad that peace, human rights and aid groups are left
hopelessly guessing whether their constitutionally-protected speech
could land them in jail," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the
ACLU National Security Project. "Cutting off aid to terrorism is
undoubtedly an important government interest, but criminalizing
legitimate peace-building and humanitarian work – including advocacy to
end terrorism and violence – does nothing to further that interest and actually makes it more difficult to achieve."
Under the law, individuals face up
to 15 years in prison for providing "material support" to FTOs even if
they oppose the terrorist activities of the designated group and even
if their work is intended to further entirely peaceful, lawful
objectives. "Material support" is defined broadly to include, among
other things, any "service," "training," "expert advice or assistance,"
or "personnel." The ACLU's filing asserts that "each of these terms is
vague, sweeping, and potentially proscribes a wide range of speech and
advocacy that is protected by the First Amendment."
The brief was joined by nine groups
who emphatically oppose terrorism, but whose peace-making, conflict
resolution, human rights advocacy and aid provision to needy civilians
sometimes requires direct engagement with groups and individuals that
resort to or support violence, including some that are, have been or
might in the future be designated as FTOs. The vague material support
law potentially criminalizes the groups' efforts to convince armed
actors to choose non-violent means to achieve their ends, to support
peace processes or to explain to perpetrators of human rights abuses
their obligations under international law and persuade them to cease
their rights-violating practices. The vague material support law also
has grave implications for the provision of humanitarian aid, disaster
relief and development efforts in conflict zones where designated
groups may operate or even control the area.
"The government should not be in the
business of criminalizing speech that furthers humanitarian ends," said
Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU Legal Director. "No one should face the threat
of prison for exercising their First Amendment rights in order to
further peace, promote human rights and provide humanitarian aid around
The ACLU filed the brief on behalf
of the Carter Center, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Grassroots
International, Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, the
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason
University, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre
Dame University, Operation USA and the Peace Appeal Foundation.
In addition to Shapiro and Goodman,
attorneys on the brief are Jameel Jaffer and Larry Schwartztol of the
ACLU National Security Project.
The ACLU's brief is available online at: www.aclu.org/national-
More about the case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, is at: ccrjustice.org/holder-v-
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.