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The 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act made it a crime to provide “material support” to any organization designated by the U.S. State Department as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” Expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, these provisions violate the First Amendment and amount to guilt by association by criminalizing support that is intended to promote the lawful activities of a designated organization.
These provisions criminalize wide-ranging forms of support, including the distribution of literature, engaging in political advocacy, participating in peace conferences, training in human rights advocacy, and donating cash and humanitarian assistance, even when the assistance is intended solely to promote the lawful and non-violent activities of a designated organization. The statute does not require any showing of intent to further terrorist or other illegal activity, it is unconstitutionally vague, and it grants the Secretary of State overly broad discretionary power to designate groups as “terrorist” and turn their supporters into outlaws.
CCR has been tackling material support legislation in court for nearly ten years, with a series of cases on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that advocates for the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts; and on behalf of Tamil-American aid groups which sought to provide tsunami relief in areas of Sri Lanka that are controlled by a designated organization. The Obama administration has defended the use of these provisions as vigorously as the Bush and Clinton administrations before it. The cases were heard by the Supreme Court under the consolidated case name Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project on February 23, 2010.