Thursday, February 11, 2010

First Amendment v. the Patriot Act

The United States Supreme Court will soon hear a case which will hopefully clarify the relationship of a person’s First Amendment rights and federal anti-terrorism laws. Specifically, the Court will decide on the constitutionality of the section of theUSA Patriot Act which prohibits the provision of “material support” to organizations classified by the government as being terrorists.

In the cases of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, No. 08-1498, and Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder, No. 09-89, Ralph D. Fertig, President of the Humanitarian Law Project and Civil Rights lawyer, wishes to provide mediation services to a Kurdish group in Turkey. He and his group wish to work with this group in order “to try to convince them to use nonviolent means of protest on the model of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.”

However, under the “material support” clause of the Patriot Act, even acts of peace and assistance aimed at these terrorist groups are prohibited. Douglas N. Letter, a Justice Department lawyer, stated that it even “would be a crime for a lawyer to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a designated organization in Mr. Fertig’s case or ‘to be assisting terrorist organizations in making presentations to the U.N., to television, to a newspaper.’”

Opponents of this ban compare it to McCarthyism, with many urging the Court to “remember the lessons of history.” Many claim that this ban violates a person’s freedom of speech and prevents people from “promoting lawful, nonviolent activities”. They argue that “human rights advocacy and peacemaking” are protected under the First Amendment.

The Appeals Court found that “the bans on training, service and some kinds of expert advice were unconstitutionally vague.” Still, the Court upheld the bans on any advice or service based on scientific or technical knowledge. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on February 23.

This is yet another example of how the fear of terrorism is being used to infringe on citizens’ rights. It is understandable that the government is attempting to prevent further terrorism in our country by stopping it before it happens; however, the proper way to do this should not involve violating Constitutional rights.

Especially in cases such as this, where any “material support” would be to quell future threats of terrorism, it is hard to see why Mr. Fertig’s First Amendment rights should be denied. If the true goal is to prevent further terrorist attacks, then laws should not be put in place that prevents such abatement.

For the full article, click here.

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