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Free Speech Does Not Include Terrorism

Yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from seven men charged with supporting terrorism through fund-raising for terrorist-linked organizations. The appeal came after the 9th Circuit had rejected the defense argument that their contributions to the MEK represented free speech:

The Supreme Court refused Monday to block the trial of seven Los Angeles residents charged with raising money for an Iranian opposition group that was designated a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. government.

Lawyers for the seven had argued the charges were unconstitutional because they had a free-speech right to raise money for a political group.

That claim was rejected by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which noted the Iranian opposition group — the People’s Mujahedeen, also known as the MEK — had a record of supporting assassinations and bombings.

"Sometimes money serves as a proxy for speech, and sometimes it buys goods and services that are not speech. Guns and bombs are not speech," said Judge Andrew Kleinfeld for the appeals court.

This case is not over. Another defense argument, challenging the status of the MEK as a terrorist group, will get a hearing in the actual criminal trial. The MEK opposes the mullahcracy in Teheran, which makes the defense seem more sympathetic than they would otherwise be in a post-9/11 world. However, the MEK (also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq) has been on the State Department watchlist since November 2001. It will be hard to plead ignorance in this case.

Nor will it be that easy to find sympathy for the MEK, its opposition to Teheran notwithstanding. The MEK started out as a Marxist group dedicating to overthrowing the Shah, but Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini got there first. Afterwards, it has acted against the mullahcracy but also against American interests. The MEK was one of the terrorist organizations allied with Saddam Hussein, and worked with Saddam to oppress the Iraqis. It hasn’t attacked Americans since before the Shah fell, but it hardly qualifies as a freedom-fighting force in synch with our aspirations for liberty in Iraq and Iran.

The defense has good reason for its disappointment. If this goes to a jury trial, the defendants will have a very difficult time trying to win an acquittal.

The ruling represents a limit on the definition of speech that seems quite welcome after two generations of practically unlimited applications. Nude dancing, flag burning, and a variety of other behaviors have at one time or another found favor with the Supreme Court as "speech". Perhaps the Court has found a limit even for their own predilection for protecting the cornucopia of human actions through the First Amendment.


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