Supreme Court Rules Against Charities' Challenge to the Patriot Act
by Amanda Adams*
Jun 22, 2010
In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can ban all forms of aid to designated terrorist organization, even if that aid includes advice about nonviolent and legal activities. In Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder, the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) and other charities allege that sections of the USA PATRIOT Act violate the First Amendment. The plaintiffs said they only wanted to help the groups' nonviolent activities. For example, they wanted to provide training in how to use international law to resolve disputes peacefully.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, upholding federal law making it a crime to provide "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations, including training for peaceful conflict resolution. The ruling states that material support, even if it is in the form of speech, "frees up other resources within the organization that may be put to violent ends."
However, Roberts said the government's position did not take into account the free speech interests at stake. "The Government is wrong that the only thing actually at issue in this litigation is conduct." Yet, the government's interest in combating terrorism was enough to outweigh this issue.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Justice Breyer expressed concern regarding the decision's influence on other speech that can easily be said to threaten national security.
The New York Times reports that the "decision was the court's first ruling on the free speech and associations rights of Americans in the context of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks." David Cole, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said, "This decision basically says the First Amendment allows making peacemaking and human rights advocacy a crime."
For more information on the case, visit the Charity and Security Network.back to Blog