Defending Free Speech for those labeled "Other"

Wars wouldn't exist without the creation of a hateful "other," drawing on racial, ethnic and religious prejudices to manufacture fear, demonizing the "enemy" to justify killing people. Unfortunately our own country is no stranger to this tactic.  The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Red Scare during the McCarthy era, and most recently, identifying people of Arab descent as 'terrorists'--these are all part of the history of the dehumanization and isolation of some groups of people in order to justify militarism and war. 

These fear-inducing labels are often sweepingly applied and make it difficult for anyone to stand up for an "enemy," regardless of the facts. Recognizing the spark of the divine in each person, AFSC operates from a faith that historically works against such "othering." Today we filed a case that extends our efforts in this cause.

This morning, the AFSC joined the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in filing a lawsuit challenging the federal government's restrictions on its First Amendment rights to engage in "coordinated advocacy" with Muhammad A. Salah. Muhammad, 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 them to express concerns about the government's conduct.

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

Nearly a year ago, in December 2011, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that these speech restrictions violate the First Amendment, but the foreign asset control office has not amended its regulations to conform to that ruling, and therefore AFSC is forced to bring this suit, simply so that it can express its opinions in a coordinated way.

The decision to become a party to a lawsuit is not taken lightly. For many years, AFSC has kept to a role of “independent advocate.”  When Muhammad was acquitted of all terrorist charges in his criminal trial, there was hope that OFAC would reconsider his designation. Despite his attorneys’ efforts, his status is unchanged.  AFSC’s counsel also tried to contact OFAC for information but has received no response.

Muhammad’s saga has already gone on for nearly 20 years.  His diagnosis of cancer has made resolution of his case all the more pressing.

This action is exactly the kind of spirit-led witness that AFSC is called to make in service of peace. AFSC has a long history of such advocacy. Shortly following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. government began to forcibly relocate and intern more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. In response, AFSC established two programs to help get people out of internment camps.  In 1979 AFSC published an extensive report on police intelligence networks as part of a campaign to protect citizens from illegal surveillance. These are just two examples of a history of such actions that extends from the organization's earliest days.

AFSC is asking Friends to be aware of this case and to point people to the resources here on our website as you receive questions or concerns. You can follow the progress of the case at

Read the full press release sent to media today here.

Learn more about Muhammed Salah and the case at the Center for Constitutional Rights website (