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Rhetorical support is not "material support"

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty December 26, 2012 02:15 PM

Alex Abdo, staff attorney for the ACLU's National Security Project, wrote this guest blog.

We Americans cherish few rights more than the right to speak our minds. And yet that right often comes under attack. Most recently, the federal government has used laws criminalizing the "material support" of foreign terrorist organizations to prosecute people who hold unpopular political views. Take the case of Tarek Mehanna, a native of Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Almost exactly one year ago, Mehanna was convicted then sentenced to over 17 years in prison for providing "material support" to al Qaeda. In a trial that lasted thirty-five days, the vast majority of the government's case focused on Mehanna's views on global politics, war, and religion. He was convicted in large part based on evidence that he translated publicly available al Qaeda propaganda from Arabic to English and tried to persuade others to embrace his extreme views.

Mehanna's views would shock many Americans. They are offensive and often hateful. At times Mehanna agreed with al Qaeda and parroted its views (at times he also expressly disagreed with the group).

But the right to hold and espouse offensive views is one of our nation's essential liberties. Just last year, for example, in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Supreme Court upheld the Church's right to picket and protest the funerals of our soldiers with signs bearing repulsive messages: "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and "Thank God for IEDs."


Drug lab scandal: is this how prosecutors treat their own?

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty December 21, 2012 11:06 AM

When it comes to tracking down wrong-doers, you can always count on Massachusetts prosecutors to doggedly pursue every lead until they get their woman or man.

Except, it seems, when the suspected wrong-doers are the District Attorneys themselves.


Supreme Court will make history in equal marriage cases

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty December 7, 2012 05:16 PM

News that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples gives the highest court in the land a chance to reaffirm that most traditional of American values: equality under the law. Let's hope they do the right thing.

Both cases involve marriage for gay couples, but they actually present quite distinct issues. One case, Windsor v. U.S., involves Edie Windsor and her late wife Thea Spyer, who were legally married and simply want the federal government to stop treating their marriage differently from everyone else's marriages. Windsor, now 83, was forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes after Thea died, because their marriage was legal under state law but not recognized under federal law. If Spyer had married a man instead of a woman, no estate tax would have been owed.


Subway surveillance stupidity

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty December 6, 2012 10:19 AM
MBTA's pretend security
More pretend security from the MBTA

As I write, I'm stuck in a tunnel on the Red Line--a delay that is becoming a weekly occurrence, sometimes more often.

And I read in the Globe that the MBTA plans to install surveillance cameras with the aid of federal grants, amounting to more than $6.5 million.

Jeesh! What a waste!


First Circuit Court should defend victims of human trafficking

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty December 5, 2012 04:36 PM

"We are worried about the consequences of our decision."

Today's utterance by Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, gives me hope that the court will do justice for the victims of human trafficking who will be impacted by how the First Circuit rules in a case argued before it this morning.

The case, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts v. Sebelius, raises the critical issue of whether the federal government violated the First Amendment when it delegated the spending of federal dollars to a religious institution which, in turn, used those federal funds to impose its unique religious restrictions on medical services offered to victims of human trafficking.


About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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