Dubious 'Free Speech' Arguments Color Coverage of Supreme Court's Decision on Banning Terrorist Aid

Was free speech really harmed by a recent Supreme Court decision? A lead story and lead editorial make the case: "In a case pitting free speech against national security, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld a federal law that makes it a crime to provide 'material support' to foreign terrorist organizations, even if the help takes the form of training for peacefully resolving conflicts."
Tuesday's lead story from Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak tackled the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision upholding a federal law against providing "material support" to groups on the State Department's terrorist list, even if the intention is to bolster "non-violent" elements. Liberals justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were in dissent.

The leftist Humanitarian Law Project wanted to give advice to two terrorist groups - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (in Sri Lanka) and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (in Turkey) - to resolve conflicts peacefully. The Supreme Court upheld the ban, asserting that it can lend false legitimacy to violent groups.

The headline and first paragraph gave away a point of view: "Justices Uphold A Ban On Aiding Terror Groups - Free Speech Challenge - 'Material Support' Held to Be Illegal, Even if It Seems Benign."

In a case pitting free speech against national security, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld a federal law that makes it a crime to provide "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations, even if the help takes the form of training for peacefully resolving conflicts.

Former Times reporter Judith Miller argued that free speech was not actually on the chopping block, in a column for FoxNews.com:

The ruling should not affect free speech. Americans can still write editorials on behalf of such groups and urge them to eschew violence. But now what they cannot do is help legitimize them through active support.

Miller also quoted Andrew McCarthy, who prosecuted the culprits from the first World Trade Center in 1993, who hailed the ruling.

By contrast, Liptak focused slightly more attention on the losing liberal side of the 6-3 decision, quoting Breyer's dissent at length as well as two losing plaintiffs, including a mis-named "civil rights activist."

The law was challenged by, among others, Ralph D. Fertig, a civil rights activist who has said he wanted to help the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkey find peaceful ways to achieve its goals.

Liptak has also saluted the left-wing radical Fertig as a "civil rights lawyer" in a credulous February 11 profile that ignored the Marxist origins of Fertig's group, the Humanitarian Law Project.

Tuesday's melodramatic lead editorial, "A Bruise on the First Amendment," also cast the decision as a loss for free speech.

On Monday, in the first case since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to test free speech against the demands of national security in the age of terrorism, the ideals of an earlier time were eroded and free speech lost. By preserving an extremely vague prohibition on aiding and associating with terrorist groups, the court reduced the First Amendment rights of American citizens.

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