NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union appealed a federal judge's ruling today to challenge the government's exclusion of renowned Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan from the U.S. The ACLU continues to believe that the government's stated reason for barring the scholar is a pretext and that Ramadan, a leading European academic whose work addresses Muslim identity and the role of Islam in democratic societies, remains banned from the country because of his political viewpoints.
"The Bush administration has barred Professor Ramadan from the U.S. for more than three years now – first by alleging without basis that he endorsed terrorism, then saying that it would take years to consider his visa application, and now pointing to charitable donations that were entirely legal at the time they were made. The government's shifting positions only underscore why meaningful judicial review – the kind of oversight that the district court failed to provide – is so important," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "In Professor Ramadan's case and many others, the government is using immigration laws to stigmatize and exclude its critics and to censor and control the ideas that Americans can hear. Censorship of this kind is completely inconsistent with the most basic principles of an open society."
In December, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty of the Southern District of New York ruled that Ramadan could be denied entry into the U.S. based on small donations he made between 1998 and 2002 to a Swiss charity that provides aid to Palestinians. Although the organization operates lawfully in Europe to this day, the Bush administration added the group to a blacklist in 2003 because it allegedly provided "material support" to Hamas. Siding with the executive branch, Judge Crotty ruled that material support laws enacted in 2005 could be applied retroactively to donations made before the Swiss charity was blacklisted by the United States and the material support laws were enacted. Judge Crotty also ruled that Ramadan could be excluded under the material support laws even though the government had offered no evidence at all that Ramadan knew or should have known that the Swiss charity was supporting Hamas.
Judge Crotty himself admitted that it was a nearly insurmountable task for Ramadan to definitively prove he was not aware of the Swiss charity's alleged ties to Hamas, but he nevertheless required such a showing. He wrote, "The [material support] statute imposes a heavy burden: it requires Professor Ramadan to prove a negative, and to do so by clear and convincing proof." In addition, Judge Crotty's ruling gave extraordinary deference to the government: "Once the consular official has made this decision" to exclude a foreign scholar, he writes, "it is not the Court's role…to second guess the result."
"The U.S. government's actions in my case seem, at least to me, to have been arbitrary and myopic. But I am encouraged by the unwavering support I have received from ordinary Americans, civic groups and particularly from scholars, academic organizations, and the ACLU," said Ramadan. "I am heartened by the emerging debate in the U.S. about what has been happening to our countries and ideals in the past six years. And I am hopeful that eventually I will be allowed to enter the country so that I may contribute to the debate and be enriched by dialogue."
The government originally revoked Ramadan's visa in 2004 based upon on the so-called "ideological exclusion" provision of the Patriot Act – a provision that applies to individuals who have "endorsed or espoused" terrorism. This prevented Ramadan from taking up a tenured teaching post at the University of Notre Dame. The government later abandoned its claim when it could not produce any evidence that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism. On the contrary, Ramadan has been a consistent and vocal critic of terrorism and those who use it.
Ramadan now teaches at the University of Oxford but he would like to be able to attend conferences in the United States. Despite his exclusion, he continues to receive invitations to speak in the United States and to meet with other scholars here.
"Professor Ramadan is an esteemed scholar who has visited the U.S. often, speaking on a number of topics. His exclusion from this country is chilling," said Cary Nelson, President of the American Association of University Professors, a plaintiff in this case. "The district court's decision, if upheld, could further limit the ability of U.S. citizens and organizations to exercise their rights to hear from foreign scholars on issues of consequence. Its reasoning could make it almost impossible for any foreign scholar – regardless of the interests of U.S. citizens in hearing his or her views – to overcome exclusion at the hands of consular officials."
Today's appeal stems from a lawsuit filed in January 2006 by the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors, and the PEN American Center. The case is AAR v. Chertoff and is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Melissa Goodman, Lucas Guttentag and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU, Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU, and New York immigration lawyer Claudia Slovinsky. The lawsuit was brought against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
More information about the Ramadan case, the history of ideological exclusion, and the ACLU's separate lawsuit concerning the exclusion of South African scholar Adam Habib, is available at: www.aclu.org/exclusion