In a case considered a bellwether of United States policy toward foreign scholars, the government has decided not to appeal a court ruling ordering it to either issue a visa to Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Swiss Muslim scholar, or provide good reasons for not doing so.

A federal court issued the ruling in June in a lawsuit brought on Mr. Ramadan’s behalf by the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors, and the PEN American Center. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs, filed the lawsuit.

The government had been widely expected to appeal the ruling. But on Tuesday it let the 60-day deadline for appeal pass without challenging the ruling. Federal authorities now have 30 days to act on a second visa request that Mr. Ramadan filed in September 2005 and that has been left pending since then.

Vijay M. Padmanabhan, a lawyer with the U.S. State Department, confirmed that federal officials had “decided not to appeal the ruling.” Neither he, nor several press officers at the Departments of State and of Homeland Security, would comment on what the government intended to do next. “We will continue to consider Mr. Ramadan’s visa request,” Mr. Padmanabhan said.

Mr. Ramadan was traveling on Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

The ACLU, which has challenged the government’s right to exclude other foreign scholars as well, called the development a significant step. The June ruling means “the government can’t exclude a foreign citizen simply because of his speech,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU lawyer who is leading the group’s legal case.

“We hope the fact that the government is not appealing is a sign the government is reconsidering its policies,” he said. “I hope I am not being overly optimistic.”

In the last several years, there have been a number of cases in which foreign scholars planning to come to the United States for academic activities were denied entry. Last year, for example, the Bolivian historian Waskar T. Ari, an expert on Andean indigenous movements, was prevented from taking a teaching post at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (The Chronicle, February 20, 2006). In June of this year, John Milios, a professor in Greece who is a member of what he described as “a pro-reform communist party” and had a U.S. visa to attend an academic conference, was detained when he arrived at a New York airport and put on a flight back to Greece (The Chronicle, June 22).

In most of the cases, the government has provided no reasons, or referred vaguely to security concerns. The ACLU and other critics of the government’s policy say the administration has been excluding scholars simply because it does not like their political views.

Mr. Ramadan, an expert on, and authority among, European Muslims, has angered some people by his criticisms of Israeli policies.

In 2004 the U.S. authorities revoked a visa issued to Mr. Ramadan, who had been hired as a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame. The government did not provide a reason, but officials referred to a provision of the U.S. Patriot Act allowing exclusion of foreign citizens who have “endorsed or espoused terrorism.”

Last fall, more than a year after he was supposed to have begun his job at Notre Dame, Mr. Ramadan accepted a visiting fellowship at the University of Oxford. Around the same time, Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, appointed him to a committee established to examine ways to root out extremism in Britain.

Britain’s acceptance of Mr. Ramadan was noted in the opinion issued in the lawsuit on the scholar’s behalf.

Judge Paul A. Crotty of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan wrote that “while the United States has not granted Ramadan a visa to enter the country, Great Britain, its one staunch ally in the battle against terrorism, has not only admitted him into England so that he may teach at Oxford, but has enlisted him in the fight against terrorism.”

Copyright © 2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education. All rights reserved.

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