by Michael Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg:
Assaults on freedom speech can be found in many aspects of American life these days, but one specific area that isn’t getting the attention it deserves relates to boycotts against Israel. Increasingly, we’re seeing various regional governments requiring citizens to agree to what essentially amounts to a loyalty pledge to a foreign government in order to participate in or receive government services.
I’m going to highlight two troubling examples of this, both covered by Israeli paper Haaretz. The first relates to Kansas.
From the article, In America, the Right to Boycott Israel Is Under Threat:
The First Amendment squarely protects the right to boycott. Lately, though, a legislative assault on that right has been spreading through the United States – designed to stamp out constitutionally protected boycotts of Israel…
Over the past several years, state and federal legislatures have considered dozens of bills, and in some cases passed laws, in direct violation of this important ruling. These bills and laws vary in numerous respects, but they share a common goal of scaring people away people from participating in boycotts meant to protest Israeli government policies, including what are known as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns.
Today, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging one of those laws — a Kansas statute requiring state contractors to sign a statement certifying that they do not boycott Israel, including boycotts of companies profiting off settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
We are representing a veteran math teacher and trainer from Kansas who was told she would need to sign the certification statement in order to participate in a state program training other math teachers. Our client is a member of the Mennonite Church USA. In response to calls for boycott by the church and members of her congregation, she has decided not to buy consumer goods and services offered by Israeli companies and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Our client is boycotting to protest the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and to pressure the government to change its policies.
Earlier this year, our client was selected to participate as a contractor in a statewide training program run by the Kansas Department of Education. She was excited to use her skills to help train math teachers throughout the state, but when she was presented with a form requiring her to certify that she “is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel,” she told the state that she could not sign the form in good conscience. As a result, the state refuses to let her participate in the program.
Kansas’s law, and others like it, violates the Constitution. The First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing one side of a public debate. That means it cannot impose ideological litmus tests or loyalty oaths as a condition on hiring or contracting.
If this was the only example of such behavior, I suppose we could dismiss it as a one-off, misguided directive. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is far more common than any of us would like to admit.
Here’s another recent example, from the article, Houston Suburb Won’t Give Hurricane Relief to Anyone Who Boycotts Israel:
A Houston suburb will not approve grants to repair homes or businesses damaged in Hurricane Harvey if the applicant supports boycotting Israel.
The city of Dickinson’s application form for storm damage repair funding includes a clause stating that “By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”
No other clauses about political affiliations or beliefs are included in the form.
The state of Texas passed a law in May banning state entities from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel. The law, one of 21 passed in states around the country in the past few years, has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union as unconstitutional.
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