ACLU sues over Kansas law that targets Israel boycotts

The Wisconsin State Capitol Building

The Wisconsin State Capitol Building

The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged a Kansas law that prohibits the state from hiring contractors who boycott Israel, calling it a violation of the First Amendment.

The suit, filed on behalf of public school curriculum coach Esther Koontz, claims that a Kansas law enacted earlier this year unlawfully requires state contractors to attest that they are not boycotting Israel.

The law requires people or companies contracting with the state to sign forms saying they're "not engaged in a boycott of Israel", something the ACLU says is a violation of constitutional rights.

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"Kansas's law, and others like it, violates the Constitution", ACLU attorney Brian Hauss said in a statement. "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". Koontz has chose to not purchase products made by Israeli companies and companies that operate in occupied Palestinian territories, in order to comply with calls (pdf) for an Israel boycott by members of her congregation. "That means it can not impose ideological litmus tests or loyalty oaths as a condition on hiring or contracting".

The bill sailed through Kansas House and Senate this legislative session and went into effect July 1.

Under the law, state contractors are required to sign a statement affirming that they do not engage in boycotts - a constitutionally protected right.

"Kansas should not be dictating political orthodoxy for its contractors", Hauss said.

"Israel is a strong trade partner with Kansas, and any company openly boycotting Israel and its products is perpetuating an act of economic warfare against a Kansas trade partner and ally".

A bill now being considered by Congress, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720 and H.R.1697), provides for significantly greater draconian penalties than those specified in the Kansas law.

Israel ranks 25 among the foreign countries the state does business with, according to the Kansas Department of Commerce.

He continued, "We are grateful for organizations like the ACLU that are taking a principled stand against those who seek to strip our constitutionally protected rights to engage in boycott, divestment and sanctions to hold Israel accountable for its violations of global law and its denial of Palestinian rights".

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