February 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 2

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From the Executive Officer

ASA Celebrates
State Department Accountability

Action affects ASA Annual Meeting and academic freedom, and is a defeat for ideological exclusion

sally hillsman
Sally T. Hillsman,
ASA Executive

I am delighted that this issue of Footnotes reports on the positive and long-awaited outcome of ASA’s District Court lawsuit, American Sociological Association et al. v. Clinton (formerly v. Rice and Chertoff), through which we challenged the U.S. Department of State’s exclusion of Professor Adam Habib from the country since 2006 (see p. 1). Actions by the Bush Department of Homeland Security and inaction by the State Department—until Secretary Hillary Clinton’s recent decision—had resulted in ASA’s invitations to Habib to speak at our 2007, 2008, and 2009 Annual Meetings being accepted but going unfulfilled.


January 15, 2010, Secretary Clinton signed an order prohibiting Habib from being denied a visa to enter the United States on the basis of the inappropriately unspecified accusations related to terrorism that were raised by the Bush administration. That administration had refused repeatedly to publicly state or document any of its opaque and unverifiable rationales for deporting Habib in 2006 and permanently denied his visa in 2007. In what is hopefully a new era of government accountability and transparency, Clinton’s ruling assured all concerned that his new visa application would be handled expeditiously and presumably favorably, in time for ASA President Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s invitation for him to participate in the 2010 meeting in Atlanta to be fulfilled.

Readers can find detailed background on this case in the November 2007 Footnotes front page article and in my Executive Officer column (www.asanet.org/footnotes/8.Nov07FN.pdf). At that time we wrote, "Academic freedom is fundamental to ASA’s mission, which rests upon the ability of scholars from wide-ranging perspectives to engage in dialog that nurtures scientific development to the benefit of the larger society. Academic freedom is the hallmark of American democratic culture." ASA’s persistence in pursuing this conviction and our commitment to this case was worth the significant effort. But it took a regime change.

Persistence Pays

The persistence of ASA, and the persistent and able pro bono work of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Melissa Goodman, have been important to keep the issue of academic freedom and scholarly association members’ constitutional First Amendment rights before the U.S. courts, the media, and the larger academic community. Habib knows that the leaders and members of the Association as well as the staff of the ASA Executive Office are absolutely committed to fight for these freedoms. We all know that this is necessary to keep these principles strong and compelling, especially to those who do not always recognize its vital importance to the strength and security of democracy.

In a speech to the American Council of Learned Societies in May 2008, I said that the reason for Habib’s visa denial appeared to be "ideological exclusion," a covert, unwritten policy by which the government refuses to allow people who have expressed critical political views to enter the country. I believe that the order issued by Secretary Clinton last week—which assures Habib and Tariq Ramadan will not be denied visas based on the reasons they were denied in 2006 and 2007, respectively—confirms this view. (Ramadan is also believed to have been denied a visa by the state department for ideological reasons.) Habib’s visa denial—under provisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, with allegations that he "engaged in terrorist acts"—was simply a cover for exclusion, based on the government’s judgments about his ideology and criticism of the U.S. Government. The government would surely not abandon the use of "evidence" of "terrorist acts" if it contained any substantive indication that Habib was a danger to people in the United States.

Habib’s world-wide reputation as a scholar of democracy, governance, and social movements has been pertinent to our Annual Meetings, especially this year as we consider the sociological concept of citizenship. He is also a Muslim of Indian descent who, as a prominent and vocal human rights advocate, promotes democracy and equality, making his questioning of the efficacy of the war in Iraq and certain U.S. anti-terrorism policies noteworthy. Every year since 2002, the Financial Mail, one of South Africa’s leading financial magazines, has described Professor Habib as one of the 300 most influential opinion makers in South Africa, and the New York Times and Washington Post regularly quote him on a wide range of social and public policy matters.

Scholarly Society as Free Speech Advocate

Foreign scholars have no voice under our laws to protest their exclusion, as they have no right to free speech under our Constitution and no right to enter the United States. And, they have no right to a review of consular decisions that exclude them. Because American citizens do have some First Amendment rights under these circumstances, ASA and other scholarly societies can challenge administratively and in court our government’s denial of a foreign scholar’s entry into our country. However, in the words of the U.S. district judge who rendered the decision in the similar Tariq Ramadan case in 2007, our right as citizens in these cases is "very limited." Judge Paul A. Crotty wrote, ". . . where there is a First Amendment claim, the Supreme Court has applied a separate test" that a consular official denying a visa that implicates a U.S. citizen’s First Amendment rights, there must be "a facially legitimate and bona fide reason for doing so." This ruling gave ASA the legal leverage to pursue this case, as the First Amendment includes a citizen’s "right to hear."

ASA and other scholarly societies have taken public stands and legal actions, insisting that the government exhibit transparency and public accountability. Scholarly societies are appropriate entities to demand such government behavior on behalf of our members’ First Amendment rights. Perhaps we can now say we have helped improve the law and its interpretation in the public interest as well as defended academic freedom. The robustness of both our scholarship and our democracy depends upon the ability to entertain informed views and engage in debate. American academic freedom was at stake, and now we have a government that seems to understand.

But scholarly societies must remain vigilant not only as a matter of principle but because we are in a unique position to take action. It is likely that the need for action is not over yet and that the need for vigilance will never be. logo_small

Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA.
She can be reached by email at executive.office@asanet.org.

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