A civil rights group asked a judge Friday to find it unconstitutional for the federal government to exclude a prominent Muslim scholar or anyone else from the United States on the grounds that they may have endorsed or espoused terrorism.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the papers attacking the policy in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The group included in its submissions a written declaration in which the scholar, Tariq Ramadan, said he has always "opposed terrorism not only through my words but also through my actions."
The ACLU said schools and organizations who want to invite Ramadan and others into the United States are concerned about what is known as the ideological exclusion provision.
It said an entry in the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual says that the provision is directed at those who have voiced "irresponsible expressions of opinion."
As such, the group said, the provision violates the First Amendment and has resulted since 2001 in the exclusion from the United States of numerous foreign scholars, human rights activists and writers, barred "not for legitimate security reasons but rather because the government disfavors their politics."
The ACLU said some foreign scholars and writers are now reluctant to accept invitations to the United States because they will be subjected to ideological scrutiny and possibly denied entry.
Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for government lawyers, said she had no comment Friday.
In the case of Ramadan, a 44-year-old native of Switzerland, the ACLU said he was excluded last year for making small donations that totaled $1,336 over a three-and-a-half-year period to the Association de Secours Palestinien, an organization that the U.S. government said he should have known provided funds to Hamas, which the government has designated a foreign terrorist organization.
Ramadan said in court papers that he made the donations "for the same reason that countless Europeans _ and Americans, for that matter _ donate to Palestinian causes: because I wanted to provide humanitarian aid to people who desperately needed it."
He said he would not have given the money "if I had thought my money would be used for terrorism or any other illegal purpose."
He added that he has "condemned terrorism at every opportunity. I have done so in countless interviews, articles, speeches and I have done so in my books."
Ramadan, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford who studies Muslims living in Europe, noted that he had accepted an invitation from British Prime Minister Tony Blair to join a government task force to combat extremism in the United Kingdom. Over the last 15 years, he spent "a great deal of my energy working to discourage extremism of all kinds and terrorism in particular," he said.
The U.S. government barred Ramadan last year only after the ACLU brought a lawsuit to force a ruling on his 2005 application for a temporary business and tourism visa so he could attend conferences and deliver lectures. Prior to August 2004, when his visa was revoked, he had spoken at Harvard University, Stanford University and elsewhere.
Ramadan said he continues to decline numerous invitations to appear in the United States, including a request by The American Academy of Religion to speak next November at its annual meeting and to speak at the June 2008 annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors.
In June, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty in Manhattan ordered the government to rule on Ramadan's application within three months.