WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that human rights advocates led by a University of Southern California professor could be prosecuted if they offer advice to a foreign terrorist group, even if the advice is to settle disputes peacefully.
The 6-3 decision upholds the 1996 law that makes it a crime for Americans to provide “material support” to a designated foreign terrorist group, including by offering its members expert advice or training.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the need to combat terrorism trumped the concern over restricting freedom of speech.
Monday’s ruling sends a warning to international aid groups and charities that even good-will measures could ensnare them in a criminal prosecution. Until now, the government has used this law mostly to prosecute those who sent money to a terrorist group or who traveled abroad to undergo training at an al-Qaida camp.
USC professor Ralph Fertig, a founder of the Humanitarian Law Project, had challenged the law. Fertig said he wanted to advocate for Iraq’s Kurdish people before a U.N. tribunal, but feared that in the process he might make contact with members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the State Department. He argued that the words “advice” and “training” should not be read broadly to cover those who advised steering away from violence.