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ACLU Files Lawsuit against Kansas Law Penalizing Support for Any Boycott of Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2017

A law went into effect in Kansas in July, which 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  
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit in behalf of a  
Kansas public school teacher who was asked to disavow a boycott of Israel as  
a condition of maintaining her position as a contractor with the Kansas  
Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnership Program.  
The teacher, Esther Koontz, is a Mennonite and is married to a Mennonite  
minister. She is committed to following the church’s July 2017 resolution  
“to avoid economic support for the military occupation of Palestinian  
territories.”The resolution also called on Mennonites “to examine the legacy  
of anti-Semitism in their own history and life.” Similar divestment and  
boycott motions have been adopted by the Presbyterian Church USA, the United  
Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.  
ACLU attorney Brian Hauss says that, “The First Amendment prohibits the  
government from using its financial leverage to impose an ideological litmus  
test. The 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 9-year veteran of Wichita Public Schools, Koontz, a math teacher, now  
develops school curricula and trains teachers. She was asked to sign the  
anti-boycott certification as part of her engagement with the Kansas  
Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnership Program, “You don’t  
need to share my beliefs or agree with my decisions to understand that this  
law violates my free speech rights,” says Koontz. “The state should not be  
telling people what causes they can or can’t support. I’m disappointed that  
I can’t be a math trainer for the state of Kansas because of my political  
views about human rights across the globe. I am convinced that this boycott  
could help bring about an end to the Israeli government’s occupation in the  
same way those tactics helped dismantle apartheid in South Africa.”  
The ACLU declares that the Kansas law violates the First Amendment: “It  
compels speech regarding protected political beliefs, associations and  
expression; restricts the political expression and association of government  
contractors; and discriminates against protected expression based on its  
content viewpoint.”  
At this time, 21 states have enacted laws opposing any boycott of Israel.  
The Kansas law is the most extreme, because of its requirement that  
individuals and companies certify their position. The Israeli magazine +972  
reports that, “The state-level campaign to silence BDS (boycott, divestment,  
sanctions) activists is part of a nationwide campaign by groups like  
StandWithUs and the Emergency Committee for Israel … The drive is supported,  
in part, by the Israeli government, which has committed millions of dollars  
to marketing products targeted by the boycott, including those produced on  
illegal settlements in the West Bank.”  
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, ACLU attorney Brian Hauss  
declares: “From the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the  
campaign to divest from businesses operating in apartheid South Africa,  
political boycotts have been a proud part of this country’s tradition.” •

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