The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a law prohibiting “material support” to terrorist organizations also bans support intended for an organization’s humanitarian activities.
The case was brought by two individuals and six aid organizations, one of which is the Humanitarian Law Project, that provide support to the Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan (PKK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). (The PKK wishes to establish an independent state for Kurds in Turkey. The LTTE seeks an independent homeland for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.) Both of these groups do humanitarian work, but they are also designated as “foreign terrorist organizations” by the United States for their numerous terrorist attacks.
The plaintiffs claim that they want to support the peaceful activities of the PKK and LTTE. Specifically they want to train members of these groups to use international law to resolve disputes peacefully and petition the United Nations. However, under federal law, it is a crime to knowingly provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization. The types of support prohibited by the law include “training,” “expert advice,” “service,” and providing “personnel.” The U.S. government contends that the plaintiffs’ activities fall under the prohibited areas and are illegal. The plaintiffs argue that the law violates the U.S. Constitution, in part because it impinges on First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
In its ruling, the Court determined that the law does not violate the First Amendment. In its written opinion of the case, the Court noted that the law does not impede protected political speech. The Court writes that “independently advocating for a cause is different from the prohibited act of providing a service to a foreign terrorist organization.”