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Obama administration to take steps to facilitate free exchange of ideas across borders, State Department says

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - Washington, January 13, 2010 - The Obama administration will take new steps to address the "ideological exclusion" of scholars and others from the United States on the basis of their political views, according to a State Department letter made public today by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), PEN American Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The State Department sent the letter to a coalition of human rights and civil liberties groups after they expressed their appreciation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's decision last year to end the ideological exclusion from the U.S. of prominent scholars Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan.

In its letter, the State Department acknowledges the importance of "promoting a global marketplace of ideas." It specifically indicates that, in deciding whether to grant visas, the State Department will give "significant and sympathetic weight" to those seeking to enter the U.S. to fulfill speaking engagements, attend conferences, accept teaching positions, "or for similar expressive or educational activities."

"All Americans can be gratified that the State Department has reaffirmed the administration's commitment to the global marketplace of ideas and to the free exchange of opinion and analysis among American scholars and visitors from abroad," said Cary Nelson, president of the AAUP.

"We welcome the State Department's stated commitment to holding the door open to a wide range of voices and views from around the world, and are very pleased to see that the steps Secretary Clinton took to end the bans on Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib are part of a fresh approach and larger policy. This letter brings good news for our international colleagues, many of whom have been discouraged from visiting the United States in recent years, and great news for us and for our right as Americans to meet and share and debate ideas with them in person," added Larry Siems, director of the Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center.

The deputy legal director of the ACLU, Jameel Jaffer, stated, "This is an encouraging and important letter, and we're hopeful that it signals a renewed commitment on the part of the State Department to facilitating and expanding the free exchange of ideas across international borders. As the letter recognizes, our democracy can thrive only if our political debate is informed by a diversity of ideas and viewpoints. No democracy has ever made itself stronger by shutting its ears to ideas that are provocative or politically unpopular. We commend the State Department for this letter and look forward to seeing these policies implemented."

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