There is an important first amendment challenge to the Patriot Act prohibition on material support for “terrorist organizations.” The quotes around “terrorist organizations” indicate that this is the real issue in the case, can the government simply declare that non-violent aid to any of a list of organizations constitutes material support for terrorism, or are there protected forms of advice, consulting, or association that are swept up in the law? Are donations to some groups on the list which may have only a tenuous connection to terror activities protected by free speech as campaign contributions are?
The Supreme Court will soon hear Mr. Fertig’s challenge to the law, in a case that pits First Amendment freedoms against the government’s efforts to combat terrorism. The case represents the court’s first encounter with the free speech and association rights of American citizens in the context of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks — and its first chance to test the constitutionality of a provision of the USA Patriot Act.
Opponents of the law, which bans providing “material support” to terrorist organizations, say it violates American values in ways that would have made Senator Joseph R. McCarthy blush during the witch hunts of the cold war.