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Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project

Citation. 561 U.S. 1 (2010)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The plaintiffs, who seek to provide support to groups designated as foreign terrorist organizations under the federal statute, challenged the statute. They claimed that they wanted to facilitate only the lawful, nonviolent purposes of those groups and that the prohibition by the statute violates the Constitution.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A content-neutral regulation will be sustained under the First Amendment if it advances important governmental interests unrelated to the suppression of free speech and does not burden substantially more speech than necessary to further those interests.


Plaintiffs, two U.S citizens and six domestic organizations, filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the material-support statute that makes it a crime to “knowingly provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” The plaintiffs argue that they wished to provide support only for the humanitarian and political activities of the alleged groups in the form of monetary contributions, legal training, and political advocacy but that they could not do so out of fear of punishment under the material-support statute. The plaintiffs allege that the statute violates their freedom of speech and freedom of association under the First Amendment.


Does the material-support statute that makes it a crime to “knowingly provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization” violate the freedom of speech and freedom of association under the First Amendment?


No, because the Constitution proclaims that the people of the United States established the government in part to “provide for the common defense.” Security against foreign danger is an essential object of the America and Congress has pursued the objective of protecting the country consistent with the limitations of the First Amendment in regulating the particular forms of support that plaintiffs seek to provide to foreign terrorist groups.


Justice Breyer

The Government has not shown any evidence necessary to justify under the First Amendment the criminal prosecution of those who engage in the activities at issue. All the activities that the plaintiffs have sought to provide involve the communication and advocacy of political ideas. Such speech and association for political purposes is the kind of activity to which the First Amendment provides its strongest protection. Moreover, coordination with a group that engages in unlawful activity does not deprive the plaintiffs of the First Amendment’s protections. The plaintiffs do not propose to solicit a crime nor do they engage in fraud or defamation. They only seek to advocate peaceful, lawful action to secure political ends.


Congress justifiably prohibited any contribution to a foreign terrorist organization by Americans. Even if what the plaintiffs seek to provide are peaceful aids, the two organizations at issue are deadly groups. They have killed more than 22000 lives and have the capability of turning any kind of resources into deadly weapons. Material support meant to promote peaceful, lawful conduct can certainly further terrorism by foreign groups in multiple ways. For instance, money is fungible and terrorist organizations may highlight the civilian and humanitarian ends to which such money could be put, but ultimately use it to support violent, terrorist operations. Moreover, providing terrorist groups with material support in any form furthers terrorism by straining the U.S relationships with its allies by undermining cooperative efforts between nations to prevent terrorism.

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