A federal judge has criticised the Bush administration for delaying a decision on a visa for one of Europe's best known Muslim intellectuals.
"I have the impression the government steps on the brake and steps on the accelerator depending on what it wants to do," Paul Crotty, US district judge said on Thursday.
During a hearing on whether Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss theologian, whose entry into the United States has been banned since 2004, can be allowed back, Crotty said the government had been inconsistent in its handling of the visa applications of Ramadan who is of Egyptian descent.
He said: "There is not a clarity within the government as to what procedures to follow, I find that very troubling."
Ramadan,43, teaches at England's Oxford University and has published more than 20 books on Islam. He has condemned Islamic violence, but has been dogged by allegations that he is an extremist despite his public pronouncements.
He is the grandson of Hasan al-Banna, one of the most important Islamist figures of the 20th century. In 1928, al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposed the ascendancy of secular and Western ideas in the Middle East.
In January this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had filed a suit against Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, for denying visas to foreign scholars, including Ramadan.
"There is not a clarity within the government as to what procedures to follow; I find that very troubling"
Paul Crotty, US district judge
The lawsuit seeks to overturn as unconstitutional a provision of the USA Patriot Act that bars anyone endorsing terrorism.
The ACLU argued that Ramadan should be immediately granted a visa for pending speaking engagements.
The judge noted Ramadan's visa has been revoked three times since August, 2004, after he was offered a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
While the judge did not make a final ruling, he said he must balance the rights of ordinary Americans who could be prevented from hearing speech protected by the First Amendment against the powers of America's executive branch.
David Jones, a US lawyer, could not say when the government would make a decision on Ramadan's visa application, filed more than seven months ago, or why he had been barred.
Jones said: "The government is telling you that serious issues ... have been identified and are being investigated."
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman had told reporters that Ramadan's visa was delayed based on a Patriot Act provision that bars entry to those who endorse terrorism.
"While the government is pondering the situation, do we have to wait two years?"
Paul Crotty, US district judge
However, Jones said Ramadan had not been excluded on those grounds. But he added: "Professor Ramadan, tomorrow, could endorse or espouse terrorism."
Noting that an Internet search could easily show Ramadan's views on terrorism, the judge asked, "While the government is pondering the situation, do we have to wait two years?"
The judge asked both sides for more information before he would make a ruling, and said Ramadan could use video conferencing technology for his US speaking engagements.