New York, NY, June 23, 2006—PEN American Center today hailed a court ruling challenging the U.S. government’s refusal to issue a visa to a prominent Muslim scholar, calling the court’s order to process Professor Tariq Ramadan’s visa application “a clear and articulate affirmation of the First Amendment rights of Americans. The court has flatly declared the government does not have the power to exclude international writers and scholars from the United States simply on the basis of their political views.”

In January, PEN American Center joined Professor Ramadan, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Association of University Professors in challenging a Patriot Act provision that the government has used to bar prominent writers and scholars who are critical of U.S. policies. Section 411 of the Patriot Act, which was further expanded in 2005, allows the government to refuse admission to the United States to individuals who “endorse or espouse terrorist activity” or persuade others to do so. In August 2004, a Department of Homeland Security official cited the provision as the basis for revoking Professor Ramadan’s visa, a move that prevented him from assuming a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame. Ramadan’s public statements and extensive writings have consistently condemned terrorism, and he traveled frequently to the United States both before and after September 11, 2001. In September 2005 he submitted a new visa application which is currently pending.

In today’s ruling, United States District Court Judge Paul Crotty affirmed that “the First Amendment rights of American citizens are implicated when the Government excludes an alien from the United States on the basis of his political views.” He noted that “while the Executive may exclude an alien for almost any reason, it cannot do so solely because the Executive disagrees with the content of the alien’s speech and therefore wants to prevent the alien from sharing this speech with a willing American audience.” Ordering the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to adjudicate Professor Ramadan’s pending visa application within 90 days, Judge Crotty added that the government:

“may not invoke ‘national security’ as a protective shroud to justify the exclusion of aliens on the basis of their political beliefs….If Ramadan is a threat to national security, or there is some other facially legitimate and bona fide reason for his exclusion, the Government may exclude him. But the Government must provide an explanation. It has not done so.”

PEN American Center Executive Director Michael Roberts expressed his hope that today’s ruling would be followed by quick action on the part of the government. “This spring, PEN Members were denied the opportunity to hear and question Professor Ramadan when the government’s refusal to issue a visa prevented him from appearing in person at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York,” Roberts said. “With similar invitations outstanding from our co-plaintiffs, we welcome the court’s ruling and urge the government to end its ill-advised efforts to limit the free flow of information and ideas at a time when the United States should be welcoming open discussion and debate.”

PEN Freedom to Write and International Programs Director Larry Siems emphasized that Professor Ramadan’s ordeal is just one of many cases where international writers and scholars have been denied visas or turned back at the border, apparently for ideological reasons, including at least three instances in the last three months. “Today’s ruling makes very clear that our government is not allowed to pick and choose our nation’s international visitors based on their political views. We hope it has an immediate effect not only for Professor Ramadan but also for the many other writers and intellectuals from abroad who have been turned away or discouraged from visiting the United States.”

More Information

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org