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Concerns raised over rights infringement

Beth Erickson | Thursday, September 23, 2004

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series exploring the controversies and implications surrounding the visa revocation of Tariq Ramadan, a professor who was schedule to begin teaching at Notre Dame this fall.

The revocation of Professor Tariq Ramadan’s visa has sparked debate on Notre Dame’s campus and nationwide about the long-term effects of the USA PATRIOT Act, the document that created the restrictions under which the State Department denied Ramadan entry into the United States.

The PATRIOT Act was created after Sept. 11 to arm law enforcement officials with new tools to detect and prevent terrorism. It has also, in effect, granted the government several additional powers, including the right to deny non-citizens admission into the U.S. for expressing their political views – which has raised some eyebrows in the Ramadan case.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that the Act directly violates the Bill of Rights because it grants the government license to investigate persons, citizens and non-citizens without that which they call due process.

The government’s decisions regarding Ramadan have spurred several members of the Notre Dame intellectual community to raise similar concerns.

“I recognize that defending the United States from attack must be a paramount concern of our government, but in taking responsible measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones, we must also be particularly careful not to betray the principles and values that define our greatness as a nation,” Kroc Institute director Scott Appleby said. “These principles should not be suspended because the accused is suspected of a heinous crime, or of harboring the intent to commit one; it is precisely in these cases that the principles are tested and must be applied.”

National security concerns are only rarely – and “not now” – paramount to the freedom of speech, said psychology professor Darcia Narvaez.

Students have also questioned whether the Act has violated the rights normally afforded to non-citizens of the United States.

“I recognize that Ramadan is not a U.S. citizen, so he would not be protected by the same rights as American citizens, but there should be some kind of universality to the Constitution in regards to actions within the U.S.,” sophomore Anne Kroeger said. Kroeger is a double major in Arabic and Political Science who is enrolled in what was intended to be Ramadan’s Islamic Ethics class.

Other students have voiced support for the Act, defending its efforts to protect citizens.

“I think that the lack of terrorist attacks upon American soil since the passage of this act, which did so with overwhelming bi-partisan support, is a testament to its vitality in the defense of our Republic,” Notre Dame College Republicans co-president Ian Ronderos said. “The charges of the ACLU are completely unfounded and if they had their way we would be a much more vulnerable nation. As the great Roman orator and statesman said, ‘The safety of the people shall be the highest law.'”

The debate has extended nationwide, and some have argued that national security concerns give the government the right to determine the scope of its laws.

“The issue is not betrayal of the First Amendment, but restricting its reach in time of war, as has happened throughout American history and must happen now if we are seriously to wage war,” Daniel Pipes, Director of D.C. think tank the Middle East Forum, said.

Pipes, the creator of Campus Watch, a Web site designed to review and critique Middle East studies in North America, has protested the professor’s tenure in the United States since Notre Dame appointed him last January. In an August editorial by the Chicago Tribune, he quoted himself as saying in January, “Once again we see that the leftward leaning academy and in particular the Kroc Institute [at Notre Dame] has a soft spot for militant Islamic figures.

Several professors have charged that the most significant infringement of rights lies in the government’s ability to bar Ramadan without pressing charges against him, a power granted by the PATRIOT Act.

“If the State Department would say why Professor Ramadan’s passport has been revoked, we would have something to comment on,” Joseph Amar, professor of Classics and Theology, said in an interview earlier this month. “If he actually posed some threat, they should be forthcoming about it. Anyone who is accused of something has the right to know their accuser and what he is being accused of.”

Neither the University nor Professor Ramadan has received any further information from the Department of Homeland Security or the State Department.

Claire Heininger, Kate Gales, Kate Antonacci and Angela Saoud contributed to this article.