Suits Claim Texas’ Israel Boycott Law Violates Contractors’ First Amendment Rights

“This is not just based on whether you’re for or against Israel; the concerns of free speech go much, much deeper.”

By Rhonda FanningDecember 19, 2018 12:00 pm,

Until a few days ago, few Texans knew about House Bill 89. It took effect in 2017, and requires contractors doing business with the state to sign an agreement to not take part in boycotts against Israel. Suddenly, several cases have emerged to challenge that law.

A contracted speech pathologist for Pflugerville Independent School District says she was forced to resign when she refused to sign an agreement that she would not participate in boycotts of Israel. She is suing the district and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, or ACLU, has filed a suit against the state, saying the law violates individuals’ rights under the First Amendment.

Charles “Rocky” Rhodes is a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston. He says suits are just now appearing because plaintiffs needed time to be able to prove they had been harmed by the law.

“Now, we have some people that have had some concrete injuries against this law, that are able to bring a case,” Rhodes says.

Of the 26 states that have laws restricting participation in boycotts of Israel, only a handful have faced lawsuits from individuals who believe they can show the law has harmed them.

Rhodes says the contractor that filed the suit against Texas argues that she had rights outside her contract employment relationship with the school district.

“Whether she boycotts Israel or not has nothing to do with the services she’s providing as a speech pathologist,” Rhodes says, explaining the plaintiff’s argument.

Rhodes says HB 89 could be interpreted very broadly. If, for example, he were asked to make a speech by a state organization and was compensated, Rhodes says he could be asked to sign an agreement that he would not boycott Israel.

Rhodes says similar laws in Kansas and Arizona have been enjoined – courts have prevented them from being enforced, pending the outcome of litigation.

He says there’s an important free-speech principle at stake.

“If the state can make you do this, then the state … could have said, ‘You can’t boycott South Africa for their apartheid policies,'” Rhodes says. “This is not just based on whether you’re for or against Israel; the concerns of free speech go much, much deeper.”

Written by Shelly Brisbin.