March 6, 2018

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Senate today opposing a revised version of a bill that would criminalize supporting certain boycotts of companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The ACLU had voiced objections to the original bill last July on First Amendment grounds. Last weekend, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released a revised version.

“This bill is unconstitutional because it seeks to impose the government’s political views on Americans who choose to express themselves through boycotts,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The proposed changes are improvements, but the revised bill continues to penalize participants in political boycotts in violation of the First Amendment. If it is enacted in this form and takes effect, we will strongly consider fighting it in court.”

The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment, and the ACLU is currently fighting two lawsuits challenging Kansas and Arizona laws requiring state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel.  

In the Kansas case, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in January blocking enforcement of the law while the case proceeds. The ACLU represents a high school curriculum coach who cannot take part in a state program to train other teachers because she refuses to sign an anti-boycott certification.

In the lawsuit challenging the similar Arizona law, the ACLU represents an attorney and his one-person law office, which contracts with the government to provide legal services to incarcerated individuals.

The ACLU does not take a position on boycotts of foreign countries, but the organization has long supported the right to participate in political boycotts and has voiced opposition to anti-boycott bills in multiple states as infringements on free speech.

Today’s letter to senators is here:

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