Holder v. The Humanitarian Law Project is a June 2010 decision made by the Supreme Court that seriously challenges our freedoms of speech and association.
Although a bit dated, I feel the lack of popular knowledge on this topic justifies the lack of novelty.
The Humanitarian Law Project challenged the material support provision of an anti-terror law passed in 1996 that banned Americans from aiding groups labeled by the government as terrorists.
The HLP sought to assist the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam by giving them legal advice on how to non-violently end their respective conflicts.
Unfortunately, their plans fell under the material support provision, and thus they challenged it, winning several rulings in the lower courts by arguing that the language of the provision was too vague and conflicted with the First Amendment right to free speech.
The Supreme Court failed to see similarly, acquiescing 6-3 to the continued criminalization of the type of work that the HLP wanted to perform.
Justice John G. Roberts, who wrote the majority decision, claimed that even intangible aid could allow terrorist groups to redirect their funds toward arms.
Although this situation is truly a possibility, a few questions arise. Does this hypothetical scenario justify the watering down of our freedoms of speech and association, long praised as the cornerstone of America?
I would argue that it doesn’t, and that we ought not to succumb to the paranoid, jingoistic rhetoric that has become the post-9/11 standard regarding foreign policy.
It is also important to highlight the arbitrary nature of the State Department’s list of terrorist groups. There is no review despite the fact there is widespread international dispute concerning some groups presently labeled as terrorists by our government.
If we are going to assume the worst and extrapolate the hypothetical regarding groups like the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Liberation Tigers, I argue that we must hold our government to the same standard: what is there to stop them from abusing their ability to designate groups as terrorists? Presently, nothing.
The decision itself is alarming, but what deserves more attention is the response which it has received.
In the post- 9/11 era, terrorism has become the magic bullet that allows the government to exempt itself from its end of the constitutional bargain.
Yesterday’s communism is today’s terrorism. I suspect this systematic assault on liberty will be looked back upon much how we view McCarthyism; why can’t we learn from the past?
Although quoted almost to the point of exhaustion, I will leave you with the words of Benjamin Franklin, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. “
Nick Hahn/Copy editor