USA: Violent Extremism measures must consider Freedom of Expression

The Letter

April 22, 2016

The Honorable Jennifer Easterly
Senior Director for Counterterrorism
White House
1650 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20504

Via Email and Mail

Re: Federal Support for Countering Violent Extremism Programs

Dear Ms. Easterly:

The undersigned human rights, civil liberties and community-based organizations write seeking an update regarding our request that the Obama administration issue a federal guidance on impacts of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) on religious exercise, freedom of expression and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

In December 2014, many of our organizations wrote Ms. Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security (see Annex in pdf below). We noted that while our organizations have diverse perspectives on the wisdom and legality of CVE, we all agree that where the federal government encourages these efforts, it also bears responsibility for their impacts. We emphasized potential impacts on religious exercise and political expression. Among our concerns is that law enforcement may use CVE as a pretext for intelligence gathering and other activities that treat entire communities as suspect.

The current climate of scapegoating and anti-Muslim bigotry underscores this concern, and the need to institutionalize civil liberties and human rights safeguards. It is all too easy to imagine a subsequent administration seizing on CVE programs that are now in development as vehicles for systematic and large-scale profiling, patrolling and surveillance of American Muslim and communities presumed to be Muslim. The CVE Task Force can establish strong precedents and address concerns about current practice by issuing a guidance or directive that sets out principles and legally impermissible conduct. This could be followed by individual agency implementation and planned oversight.

A federal guidance is especially crucial in light of increased funding for federal, state, local, and non-governmental CVE programs. In February 2016, DHS announced funding of nearly $1 billion for state and local efforts through the Homeland Security Grant Program, with CVE designated as a program priority.1

President Obama’s budget request includes $50 million for CVE grants. As we stated in our previous letter, while ensuring social services, educational resources and mental health services in these communities is vital, appropriate strategies would treat communities holistically and address a range of needs and social problems, rather than through the singular lens of national security or law enforcement. In any event, government programs and partnerships cannot target a particular religious community or determine participants by reference to religion and/or national origin. They may not advance a particular set of religious beliefs while suppressing others.

We look forward to working with the CVE Task force to address these and other civil liberties and human rights impacts. Thank you for your attention to these matters.


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American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
Arab American Institute
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Bill of Rights Defense Committee/ Defending Dissent Foundation
Black and Pink
Brennan Center for Justice
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for New Community
Free Press
Interfaith Alliance
Islamic Shura Council of Southern California
Jewish Voice for Peace
Muslim Advocates
Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum
Muslim Justice League
Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA)
National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund
The Sikh Coalition
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
United States Council of Muslim Organizations
US Human Rights Network

Read the letter (including Annex) as a pdf.


1 See Department of Homeland Security, “Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Funding for State and Local Government Programs for Countering Violent Extremism,” February 29, 2016.