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American Academy of Religion Sues to Prevent U.S. from Denying Foreigners Entry Solely for their Ideas

January 25, 2006

Contact: Steve Herrick

The American Academy of Religion (AAR) has joined the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center in a lawsuit to prevent U.S. government officials from barring foreign scholars from the United States solely because of views the scholars express. The suit, filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union, contends that a provision of the Patriot Act has fostered a policy known as "ideological exclusion" and asks that the provision be declared unconstitutional.

"Scholars rely on in-person conversation to consider, challenge, and learn from one another’s points of view," says AAR executive director Barbara DeConcini. "Barring foreign scholars from the U.S. thwarts this aspect of scholarly exchange that for centuries has, and continues to be, a vital way that scholars enhance their knowledge."

The suit follows the continued exclusion of Professor Tariq Ramadan, a plaintiff to the suit, who is widely regarded as one of the leading scholars of Islam. He is a visiting professor at Oxford University and the author of more than twenty books and several hundred articles on topics such as democracy and Islam, the practice of Islam in Europe, and Islamic law. A Swiss national and consistent critic of terrorism, Professor Ramadan, has also been a frequent critic of U.S. policy toward the Muslim world.

Prior to July 2004, he often attended academic conferences held in the U.S. But then the U.S. government revoked Professor Ramadan’s visa, forcing him to cancel his attendance at an AAR conference that November, where he was to be a plenary speaker.

"Preventing foreign scholars like Professor Ramadan from visiting the U.S.," DeConcini says, "limits not only the ability of scholars here to enhance their own knowledge, but also their ability to inform students, journalists, public policy makers, and other members of the public who rely on scholars’ work to acquire a better understanding of critical current issues involving religion."

Founded in 1909, the AAR is the world’s largest association of scholars of religion. It has more than 10,000 members who teach at over 2,000 colleges, universities, colleges, and seminaries. The AAR neither endorses nor rejects any religious belief or practice.