Don’t mess with Texans’ free speech

by | May 1, 2019 | Policy, Texas Legislature

The right to boycott has always been a part of the American experience, from the American Revolution to the Civil Rights movement. Expressing economic or moral disapproval is as American as apple pie. It all comes down to free speech.

So it wasn’t unusual that a federal court last week torpedoed a Texas law – signed by Governor Greg Abbott in 2017 – that forces state contractors to certify they’re not involved with boycotts of Israel. The judge ruled the law unconstitutional on free speech grounds and issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking its enforcement.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman was clear about the law violating the most sacred principles of the American constitution.

“At the heart of the First Amendment lies the principle that each person should decide for him or herself the ideas and beliefs deserving of expression, consideration, and adherence,” he wrote in his opinion. “Our political system and cultural life rest upon this ideal.”

The ACLU of Texas filed the lawsuit on behalf of four Texans impacted by the law, one of whom was George Hale, an radio reporter with a local National Public Radio station owned by Texas A&M University. Hale says he was made to sign the certification “against his conscious.”

When Gov. Abbott signed the 2017 law, he issued a statement declaring “state contracts will only be given to verified businesses to guarantee that Texas maintains a strong and supportive relationship with Israel.”

Next Steps

The ACLU of Texas told the Texas Signal they’re ready to oppose any appeals on the Court’s decision. Additionally, the group said a new bill filed this legislative session ( House Bill 793) – amending the 2017 law to apply only to boycotts by companies and not individuals – is also unconstitutional. The bill is on the House calendar for debate May 1.

“HB 793 does not cure the law’s fundamental constitutional defects which are detailed in the Court’s Order,” said attorney Tommy Buser-Clancy. “The law still discriminates against companies that engage in political consumer boycotts of Israel, which is a right protected by the First Amendment. An unconstitutional law cannot be salvaged merely by making it apply to fewer people.”

The killing of unarmed protestors by the Israeli government has fueled boycott movements, better known as BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, around the world and in Texas.

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