Al-Arian goes to court

Sami Al-Arian returned to federal court Wednesday when his lawyers contested some of the charges he has faced, which they say violated his First Amendment rights.

Al-Arian, a former USF professor, has said he and his co-defendants, including a former USF graduate student and Arabic instructor Sammeeh Hammoudeh, were exercising their right to free speech when raising money through a Palestinian charity, according to an Associated Press report.

However, prosecutors said the issue of free speech crossed the line and became a criminal act when money that was raised by Al-Arian and Hammoudeh was sent to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

U.S. District Judge James Moody said he would issue a ruling on the motion to dismiss the charges shortly, but as of late Wednesday afternoon, no motions were filed.

William B. Moffitt, the Washington D.C. lawyer representing Al-Arian, said the constitutionality of the charges was the first set of challenges he plans to fight in the massive case. One of those challenges is the use of the Patriot Act, the AP report said. The Patriot Act allowed government officials to gather intelligence evidence collected in Al-Arian’s case.

Al-Arian was arrested in February on a 50-count indictment on racketeering charges and faces a trail in January 2005.

Moffitt argued to Moody that many of the acts outlined in the indictment related to what Al-Arian and the others said or to the money they raised to communicate those thoughts. He added that fund raising is a part of free speech in order for ideas to be communicated to others.

“What we have in the absence of money is you end up talking to yourself in the mirror,” Moffitt told the AP.

Information from The Associated Press wire reports was used in this story.