The lawsuit offers the most stark example yet of how anti-BDS legislation threatens Americans’ First Amendment rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday that it had filed suit on behalf of a Kansas public school educator who was asked to disavow a boycott of Israel as a condition for payment. The case comes amid growing concerns that recent state-level legislation across the United States is chilling free speech among proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
The Kansas law, which came into effect on July 1 of this year, directs the state to “require written certification from all individuals and companies with which it enters into contracts” that they are “not engaged in a boycott of Israel.”
“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.”
A member of the Mennonite Church, Esther Koontz “decided not to buy consumer products made by Israeli companies and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the ACLU said. Her decision is in line with the church’s July 2017 resolution “to avoid economic support for the military occupation of Palestinian territories.”
The resolution, which also called on Mennonites “to examine the legacy of anti-Semitism in their own history and life,” followed earlier successful divestment motions by the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.
“You don’t need to share my beliefs or agree with my decisions to understand that this law violates my free speech rights,” Koontz said. “The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support.”
A nine-year veteran of Wichita public schools, Koontz, a math teacher, now develops school curricula and trains teachers. She had been asked to sign the anti-boycott certification as part of her engagement with the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program.
The ACLU complaint asks the court to strike down the state law and bar the Kansas Department of Education from requiring the anti-boycott certification. Legal experts cite as precedent a 1982 Supreme Court decision that reversed a hefty financial judgement against the NAACP for its seven-year boycott of white merchants in Claiborne County, Mississippi. Writing on behalf of the...Read More