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A civil rights group asked a judge to find it unconstitutional for the US 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 US District Court in Manhattan on Friday. 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."
The group said the provision violates the constitutional right to free speech 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 to the Association de Secours Palestinien, an organization that the US government said he should have known provided funds to Hamas, which both US and Israeli governments have designated a terrorist organization.
Ramadan said in court papers the donation was for humanitarian aid and he would not have given it "if I had thought my money would be used for terrorism or any other illegal purpose."
Before his visa was revoked in 2004, Ramadan had spoken at Harvard University, Stanford University and elsewhere. He 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.
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