To clear up Douglas Farah’s confusion, the “seemingly benign” language is not mine (which is why I put it in quotes), rather it comes from Chief Justice John Roberts’ description (pdf) of the broad scope of the material support prohibition, which the Supreme Court held could criminalize association with a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization even if intended only to provide humanitarian aid in conflict zones or dissuade the group from violence. Indeed, the Holy Land Foundation case Farah references is an example of this broad prosecutorial authority, not to mention the government’s shuttering of several Muslim charities through asset seizure powers exercised without prosecution, or even the opportunity to challenge the government’s claims.
The point of my argument was not to re-litigate the Holy Land Foundation case, as he suggests, but to challenge the notion that the other groups he mentioned pose a security threat to the United States, which is the topic of this discussion. The fact that the government, despite its robust powers and demonstrated aggressiveness in using them, has not seized the assets or charged criminally the groups Farah disparages as having a “dangerous” theology is a pretty good indicator that it has no credible evidence to believe they pose a threat. Under current rules the government could even shut them down using secret evidence it never has to expose to adversarial scrutiny. These groups may very well have associations and ideologies that Farah and others find objectionable, and as a free speech advocate I wholeheartedly support his right to express such concerns, but that doesn’t make these groups, or their ideas, a security threat. And it is an entirely different matter when government officials express such opinions in a manner that denies these organizations the opportunity to defend themselves, in violation of their Fifth Amendment due process rights.
Our founders made clear that government has no business policing Americans’ ideas, speech, religion or associations, and it is important, especially in times of peril, to realize these freedoms are our strength and not a weakness. As New York Governor Al Smith said in vetoing Lusk Committee legislation targeting the groups it found dangerous based on their “radical” ideas and associations: “It is a confession of the weakness of our faith in the righteousness of our cause when we attempt to suppress by law those who do not agree with us.” Using a legislative forum to smear individuals and organizations as threats based on their ideas and associations is as wrong and counter-productive today as it was during Chairman Lusk’s reign.