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Responding To Lawsuit, Government Backs Away From Claim That Swiss Muslim Scholar Endorsed Terrorism

In response to a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of academic organizations, the Departments of State and Homeland Security have backed away from a claim that noted Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan is being denied entry to the United States because he endorsed or espoused terrorism.

“As this case has progressed, it has become increasingly obvious that the government has no legitimate basis for barring Professor Ramadan from the United States,” said Jameel Jaffer, lead ACLU attorney in case. “All the evidence suggests that the government is barring Professor Ramadan simply because it doesn’t want Americans to hear what he has to say.”

In July 2004, the Departments of State and Homeland Security revoked a visa that would have allowed Ramadan to accept a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame, explaining their action by pointing to a provision of the Patriot Act that allows the government to bar those who have “endorsed or espoused terrorism.”

In court, however, the government failed to introduce evidence that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism, and in papers filed yesterday it acknowledged that, despite its July 2004 statement to the media, it had never determined that Ramadan was inadmissible to the United States under that provision of the Patriot Act.

“The government’s argument that it can exclude foreign scholars simply because of their political views has serious implications for the First Amendment rights of United States citizens and residents,” said Arthur Eisenberg, NYCLU Legal Director. “Ideological exclusion impoverishes academic and political debate inside the United States.”

In a brief filed with a federal court late last night, United States Attorneys said: “the Government has disavowed any present intention to rely on the ‘endorse or espouse’ provision” of the Patriot Act. They also wrote: “The State Department has been able to state at this time it has not determined, and does not intend to determine, that Mr. Ramadan is ineligible for a visa based on the provision.”

Although the State Department has backed away from using the Patriot Act provision, the government is still keeping Ramadan’s visa application in limbo. In their brief, government attorneys argue that the court cannot impose a deadline or otherwise compel officials to respond to a new visa application submitted by Ramadan on September 16, 2005. The NYCLU and ACLU will file a response to these arguments this Thursday.

In their lawsuit, the NYCLU and ACLU and their clients — the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center — say that the government’s refusal to allow Ramadan into the country is violating their right to hear constitutionally protected speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously said that the “right to receive information and ideas . . . is fundamental to a free society,” and it has recognized that the exclusion of foreign scholars implicates the First Amendment rights of United States citizens and residents.

The NYCLU said it will press the court to order the government to act on Ramadan’s pending visa application, which has now been “under consideration” for seven months. It will also ask the court to bind the government to its commitment not to invoke the ideological exclusion provision against Ramadan in the future.

To highlight the problem of “ideological exclusion,” the ACLU and PEN are hosting an event on Thursday featuring readings from writers and scholars who were banned from the United States because of their political opinions. Readers at the event include Todd Solondz, Liev Schreiber, Debra Winger, Martin Amis, Russell Banks, Gioconda Belli, Naomi Shihab Nye, Barbara Goldsmith and Eloy Urroz. The event, called “An Evening Without…,” is part of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature and will take place at The Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, New York, at 10.00pm.

“The case of Tariq Ramadan marks a return to discredited Cold War policies that allowed the U.S. government to exclude prominent artists and intellectuals like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda, who never posed any national security threat,” said ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman. “We know now that the government was more concerned with silencing those whose politics it disfavored than protecting national security.”

The case is before Judge Paul A. Crotty of the Southern District of New York. In addition to Jaffer, Goodman and Eisenberg, attorneys in the case are Judy Rabinovitz and Lucas Guttentag of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and New York immigration lawyer Claudia Slovinsky.

Legal documents in the case of AAR v. Chertoff are available at

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