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American Civil Liberties Union files lawsuit against anti-BDS legislation

October 12, 2017 at 11:18 am

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) rally in Washington, US [Elvert Barnes/Flickr]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday against a Kansas law requiring a high school educator to certify that she will not boycott Israel, on the basis that this violates her First Amendment rights.

The law, in effect since 1 July, requires that any person or company that contracts with the state submit a written certification that they are “not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel.” The Kansas law is similar to legislation that has been passed in other states.

According to the ACLU press release, the US Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. Other decisions have established that the government may not require individuals to sign a certification regarding their political expression in order to obtain employment, contracts, or other benefits.

“The First Amendment prohibits the government from using its financial leverage to impose an ideological litmus test,”, said ACLU attorney Brian Hauss. “This law is an unconstitutional attempt by the government to silence one side of a public debate by coercing people not to express their beliefs, including through participation in a political boycott”.

While the ACLU does not take a position on the boycott of Israel, “the organization has long supported the right to participate in political boycotts and has voiced opposition to bills that infringe on this important First Amendment right”.

Read: 13 questions about the origins, objectives and war on BDS 

The lawsuit “argues that the Kansas law violates the First Amendment for several reasons”.

“It compels speech regarding protected political beliefs, associations, and expression; restricts the political expression and association of government contractors; and discriminates against protected expression based on its content and viewpoint”.

The lawsuit thus asks the court to strike down the law and bar the Kansas Department of Education from requiring contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel.

In July, the ACLU sent a letter to members of Congress opposing a bill that would make it a felony to support certain boycotts of companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. As a result, Senate sponsors of the bill are considering changes.

Read: War on BDS is now a war on American democracy

In a piece published by Haaretz yesterday, Hauss said that while the First Amendment “squarely protects the right to boycott”, in recent times, “a legislative assault on that right has been spreading through the United States –  designed to stamp out constitutionally protected boycotts of Israel”.

From the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery bus boycott to the campaign to divest from businesses operating in apartheid South Africa, political boycotts have been a proud part of this country’s constitutional tradition,

Hauss wrote.

“That’s why the ACLU has opposed anti-boycott bills in state legislatures for the past several years. That’s why we’ve come out against the Israel Anti-Boycott Act in Congress. And that’s why we’re suing to challenge Kansas’s unconstitutional anti-boycott law”.