Arab-American and Quaker groups file suit to challenge restrictions on their rights to advocate

WASHINGTON, DC and PHILADELPHIA, PA (September 5, 2012) The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) have joined a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s restrictions on their First Amendment rights to engage in “coordinated advocacy” with Muhammad A. Salah.  Muhammad Salah, a U.S. citizen living in Chicago, is the only U.S. citizen residing in the United States who is currently labeled a “Specially Designated Terrorist” by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).  Once an individual is so labeled, any person or organization is prohibited from engaging in coordinated speech with him, even if only to express concerns about the government’s conduct.   

AFSC, a Quaker peace and social justice organization, and ADC, the grassroots Arab-American civil rights and civil liberties organization, joined in a lawsuit filed today by lawyers from Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick, and Dym; the Center for Constitutional Rights; and the Peoples Law Office to challenge the government’s power to impose arbitrary restrictions on our First Amendment rights to follow our conscience and raise public awareness about government actions we believe to be unjust. 

ADC and AFSC cannot now coordinate their activities with Muhammad Salah to publicly criticize the government or advocate for redress without violating the law.  The organizations are concerned that the government’s treatment of Salah amounts to unnecessarily sweeping and arbitrary punitive actions that are an egregious affront to the basic values of justice, but AFSC and ADC are restricted in their ability to so advocate in coordination with Salah by the very breadth of the government’s restrictions. 

In December 2011, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that these speech restrictions violate the First Amendment, but OFAC has not amended its regulations to conform to that ruling, and therefore ADC and AFSC are forced to bring this suit, simply so that they can express their opinions in a coordinated way.

“It is more than alarming that a year after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that OFAC’s prohibitions violate the First Amendment in a similar case, the agency has yet to change its regulations.  We must not stand by while the government uses tactics of fear to deny basic rights to Arab-American organizations and the members they represent,” says Abed A. Ayoub, ADC Legal Director.

“AFSC brings this case as a last resort, challenging a government agency that seeks to strip our First Amendment rights through the arbitrary use of a demonizing label,” says Shan Cretin, AFSC’s General Secretary (chief executive).

“Over nine decades working for peace, we have seen what can happen when a government is allowed to cultivate a climate of fear to justify denying basic rights to some scapegoated group—Japanese-Americans, Native Americans, Jews, civil rights advocates, or political dissidents.  AFSC has consistently resisted such attempts, and will continue to do so,” says Shan Cretin.

AFSC and ADC consider this appeal to the courts necessary to uphold their First Amendment rights to advocate on matters of conscience. As this case proceeds, please check for updates on www.afsc.org and www.adc.org.

For more specifics on Muhammad Salah’s case, visit http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/salah-v.-u.s.-department-of-treasury.