Academic Freedom, Sometimes

Last week an official letter was sent by the ACLU and others to leaders in the Obama administration protesting the denial of academic freedom for certain persons seeking admission into the United States. The apparent reason for denial of these persons’ visas was outspoken ideological differences with our government. I am not here concerned with whether these people should be allowed into the United States nor do I necessarily take issue with the missions and approaches of all the organizations that signed the letter. I would however, like to recommend that the ACLU read again this letter that they have posted on their website the next time they wish to object to a teacher who simply presents ideological or scientific criticisms to Darwinian evolution theory. To make it easier for them, I have copied the entire text below, highlighting phrases and whole sentences that could as easily fit the
mistreatment of Darwin critics; whom apparently the ACLU finds more threatening to our civil liberties than political dissidents.


March 18, 2009

Dear Attorney General Holder and Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano:

Over the last eight years, the Departments of State and Homeland Security revivedthe practice of “ideological exclusion,” refusing visas to foreign scholars, writers, artists, and activistsnot on the basis of their actions but on the basis of their ideas, political views, and associations. As a result of this practice, dozens of prominent intellectuals were barred from assuming teaching posts at U.S. universities, fulfilling

speaking engagements with U.S. audiences, and attending academic conferences. Many of those barred from the United States were vocal critics of U.S. foreign policy.

We are writing to urge you to end this practice. While the government plainly has an interest in excluding
foreign nationals who present a threat to national security,no
legitimate interest is served by the exclusion
of foreign nationalson ideological grounds.

To the contrary,ideological exclusion impoverishes academic and political debate inside the United States. It sends the message to the world that our country is more interested in silencing than engaging its critics.It undermines our ability to support political dissidents in other countries. And it deprives Americans of a right protected by the First

Amendment.See Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972).No legitimate interest is served by the government’s use of the immigrationlaws as instruments of censorship.

In fact, ideological exclusion is a practice that history had discredited long before the Bush administration. During the Cold War, the United States used the ideological exclusion provisions of the McCarran-Walter Act to bar, among others, Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Italian playwright Dario Fo, British novelist Doris Lessing, and Canadian

writer and environmentalist Farley Mowat. Those exclusions came to be seen as an embarrassment to the country, and virtually no one proposes now that those exclusions served the national interest. History will judge the ideological exclusions of the last eight years in the same way. Such exclusions are ineffective as a matter of security policy and they are inconsistent with the ideals that make this country worth defending.

The undersigned organizations are eager to see the new administration commit itself to these ideals. Accordingly, we respectfully ask (1)
that you evaluate
applicants for admission to the United States on the basis of their actions rather than their political
beliefs and associations; (2) that, as to foreign scholars, writers, artists, and activists who are deemed inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act, you exercise your discretion to waive inadmissibility except where articulable national security interests unrelated to the applicant’s political beliefs or associations make waiver inappropriate; and (3) that you immediately revisit the specific cases listed below:

• Iñaki Egaña. Mr. Egaña is a respected historian and writer from the Basque region of Spain. In March 2006, Mr. Egaña traveled to the United States to conduct research for a book about Basque author Mario Salegi, who was a target of McCarthyism during the 1950s. Upon disembarking the plane, however, Mr. Egaña and his children were interrogated, detained for 24 hours, and forced to return to Madrid. The government has provided no explanation for Mr. Egaña’s exclusion.

• Haluk Gerger. Professor Gerger is a Turkish sociologist and journalist. He was jailed by Turkey in the 1990s for his writing about Turkey’s Kurds. Twice during that time, in its 1994 and 1995 Country Reports on Human Rights, the U.S. State Department cited Professor Gerger’s treatment as an example of the misuse of antiterrorism legislation to stifle freedom of expression. In 1999, when Professor Gerger was on trial again for his writings, the U.S. issued Professor Gerger and his wife 10-year, multiple entry visas. In October 2002, however, when Professor

Gerger and his wife arrived at Newark airport, border officials informed them that the State Department had cancelled their visas. The governmenthas provided no explanation for Professor Gerger’s exclusion.

• Adam Habib. Professor Habib, a South African national, is a prominent human rights activist and public intellectual. Although he earned his PhD in the United States, when he attempted to visit the United States in October 2006 for professional meetings, he was interrogated for seven hours at the border and then told that his visa had been revoked. After U.S. organizations filed suit to challenge his exclusion, the government notified Professor Habib that he had been denied entry on terrorism-related grounds. It still has not has not informed him, however, of the specific legal or factual basis for its decision. The evidence strongly suggests that Professor Habib has been excluded not because of any

connection to terrorism but because of his political activism.

• Riyadh Lafta. Dr. Lafta, an Iraqi national, is Professor of Medicine at Baghdad’s Mustansiriyah University. In the fall of 2006, Dr. Lafta applied for a U.S. visa in order to attend a speaking engagement at the University of Washington that was to take place in April 2007. His visa application was denied. Although the government stated that the denial was the result of a “miscommunication,” the circumstances strongly suggest that Dr. Lafta was refused a visa because f conclusions he had drawn in a 2006 article regarding the number of civilian casualties in Iraq.

• Tariq Ramadan. Professor Ramadan, a Swiss national, is a professor at the University of Oxford and, in the words of Time magazine, “the leading Islamic thinker among Europe’s second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants.” In 2004, he was offered a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame; only days before he was to begin teaching, however, he was told that his visa had been revoked under a provision that renders inadmissible anyone who has “endorse[d] or espouse[d]” terrorism. After U.S. groups filed suit, the government abandoned the accusation that Professor Ramadan had endorsed terrorism. It continues to exclude him now, however, under the INA’s “material support” provisions. We believe that the material support provisions do not apply to Professor Ramadan, and the evidence strongly suggests that he has been excluded not because of his donations but because of his vocal criticism of U.S. foreign policy.

• Rafael de Jesus Gallego Romero. Father Gallego is a parish priest from the village of Tiquisio in North-Central Colombia, where he ministers to miners and peasants, facilitates community support initiatives, and runs a local radio station. Father Gallego is also a vocal critic of government-supported paramilitary units acting on behalf of multinational mining corporations. In the fall of 2008, Father Gallego received invitations to travel to the United States to address universities, activist organizations, community radio stations, and churches. The U.S. government simply failed to adjudicate the visa. Father Gallego eventually learned from the Provincial Jesuit, who has ties to the American Embassy, that his visa was going to be denied “for national security reasons,” buthe has never received a formal notification that his visa was adjudicated, let alone an

explanation of the grounds on which it was denied.

• Dora María Téllez. Professor Téllez was a leading figure in Nicaragua’s revolution against the brutal Somoza regime, and has served in her country as a government minister, political activist, and professor. She has also been a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy. In 2004, she was appointed Robert F. Kennedy visiting professor in Latin American Studies at Harvard’s Divinity School and Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. When Professor Téllez attempted to enroll at a language class in California in preparation for that post, however,< class="MsoNormal" style="text-autospace: none; margin-top: 0; margin-bottom: 0">her student visa was denied on the ground that she had previously engaged in terrorist acts, despite the fact that she had been granted visas to enter the United States in the past.

Ideological exclusion compromises the vitality of academic and political debate in the United States at a time when that debate is exceptionally important. The practice was misguided during the Cold War and it is misguided now. We strongly urge you to end the practice and to immediately revisit the cases noted above.


(Among others)

American Civil Liberties Union

American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California

American Federation of Teachers

2 Responses to “Academic Freedom, Sometimes”

  1. Dave R says:

    As far as I can tell none of these people are advocates of either failed science (like creationism) or pseudoscience (like ID). It seems that they have been banned due to their opinions about politics. That’s regrettable, but this is not analogous to situations where the ACLU takes up the battle to keep failed science and pseudoscience out of science classrooms.

    The difference between politics and science is that opinions are a standard currency in politics, but in science you have to deal with facts. It’s getting tiresome to repeat this, but science has shown that neither phlogiston, nor geocentrism, nor astrology, nor creationism/ID are consistent with known facts.

    If you have new facts, let’s hear ‘em. If you still just have opinions, don’t call it science. And please, please, please don’t argue that it should be taught in science classes in public schools!

  2. caged vole says:

    Hey there Dave, you again?
    – It’s getting tiresome to repeat this too, but I’m afraid ID hasn’t been shown to be “failed science and pseudoscience”. It’s only been declared to be so (and by those with a clear motive and agenda) which is by no means the same thing.
    Now, brace yourself — yes of course the controversy should most definitely be taught. What could be a better way of sharpening the minds of the rising generation? If you’re right about it, you have nothing to fear. Even if you’re wrong you have nothing to fear except the chance to replace error with truth.
    No controversy? Don’t be absurd. What else makes the blogosphere go round?

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