The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a state law that requires government contractors to certify they are not engaged in boycotts of Israel, the ACLU said.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four Texans, argues the law “forces them to choose between their livelihoods and their First Amendment rights.”
It’s the second lawsuit this week to challenge the state law, also known as an “anti-BDS” law for targeting those who participate in “boycott, divestment and sanctions” campaigns against Israel. The BDS movement aims to generate economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories.
House Bill 89, enacted in 2017, prohibits all state agencies from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. When Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, a press release from his office said the measure showed “Texas’ strong support for Israel” and declared that “anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies.”
At least 25 other states have similar laws.
A provision of the Texas law stipulates that a governmental entity may not enter into a contract with a company for goods or services unless the contract contains a written verification from the company that it does not boycott Israel and will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract, the lawsuit states.
“This case is not about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. This case is only about whether a government entity can dictate the political viewpoint of the contractors, including sole proprietors, with whom it does business,” the lawsuit states.
“The First Amendment protects the rights of individuals and companies to participate in political boycotts. The state should be prohibited from forcing its own viewpoints on those who boycott Israel.”
John Pluecker, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, is described as a freelance writer, artist, interpreter and translator who has lost two service contracts with the University of Houston because he refused to certify that he will not boycott Israel, the lawsuit says.
The University of Houston said it is reviewing the lawsuit but noted that it was complying with state law.
“UH requires vendors entering into contracts for goods and services with UH to sign a certification form that they do not and will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract. This certification is required because of the recent state law that says for-profit vendors who enter into contracts to provide goods and services to state entities must verify that they do not and will not boycott Israel during the term of their contracts,” the school said in a statement.
“The certification form is in use throughout the UH System. Also, certain standard UH contract forms include no-boycott certification language. After initial implementation, we received additional guidance from the Attorney General’s office that such certification is not required for individual speakers and the University changed its requirement for individual speakers as a result.”
Another plaintiff, Obinna Dennar, claims he was forced to forfeit payment for judging at a Klein Independent School District debate tournament because he actively participates in a BDS campaign. The district said it will “review and defend as appropriate” when served with the lawsuit.
Another plaintiff, Zachary Abdelhadi, is a Palestinian-American student at Texas State University who was unable to judge high school debate tournaments for the Lewisville Independent School District because he boycotts Israel, according to the lawsuit. The district said, “the ACLU’s concern seems to be with the law itself” and noted that the complaint itself said it was following Texas state law.
Radio reporter George Hale was forced to sign certification “against his conscience,” according to the lawsuit, to continue working at KETR, a National Public Radio member station owned and operated by Texas A&M University-Commerce.
“As a public institution, The Texas A&M University System and its members follow all state and federal laws,” said Laylan Copelin, vice chancellor of marketing and communications for the TAMU system.
The plaintiffs accuse Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the school districts and the universities where they sought work of violating their First and 14th Amendment Rights.
The lawsuit comes one day after a children’s speech pathologist sued Paxton and the school district where she worked for terminating her contract after she refused to sign a certification about the boycott.
In response to Bahia Amawi’s lawsuit, attorney general spokesman Marc Rylander released the following statement:
“Private citizens and companies have every right to express their views on any issue they wish by boycotting companies and citizens. They do not, however, have a right to use money they obtain from government contracts to make that statement. The taxpayers of Texas do not want their money used to marginalize and attack a key ally and trading partner of Texas, and they have said so at the ballot box. They, too, have the right to express their views.”
The Pflugerville Independent School District said it was complying with state law in asking Amawi to sign the addendum to her employment contract.
“This language is required by the state of Texas for all school districts in Texas, along with other governmental entities. Pflugerville ISD is committed to educating all students to be productive members of a diverse global community. Unfortunately, Pflugerville ISD and all Texas school districts are at the mercy of the state and the regulations printed into law, and in situations such as this, we are forced to spend time on state political issues and not on our core mission – educating students,” communications officer Tamra Spence said in a statement.
“Although Pflugerville ISD is the focus of the lawsuit, this is a state issue that affects all Texas public school districts and should be addressed at the state level.”
The Texas lawsuit comes a few days after the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed a similar lawsuit challenging a state law that subjects government contractors to a 20 percent fee reduction if they engage in boycotts of Israel.
“This law imposes an unconstitutional tax on free speech,” said Rita Sklar, the executive director of ACLU of Arkansas. “The state has no business telling Arkansans what causes they can or can’t support – or penalizing them for holding a particular point of view. Our client is simply asking the courts to uphold a fundamental First Amendment principle that the government cannot force people to subscribe to a specific political viewpoint.”
CNN’s Julie In and Keenan Willard contributed to this report.