The Kansas law which prohibited state contractors from participating in boycotts against Israel has been struck down by a Federal judge who found that the legislation was “invalid” and violates the principle of free speech.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree said in his decision that the US Supreme Court has held that the “First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.”
The judge granted the request from the American Civil Liberties Union to block enforcement of the Kansas law while the case proceeds. Accoridng to reports, Crabtree found it is “highly likely” that the Kansas law is invalid.
The lawsuit was brought by the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of one Esther Koontz, a math and science curriculum coach at a Wichita public school.
The lawsuit said Koontz is a Mennonite and the wife of a pastor. She decided to boycott Israeli products and services to “support the Palestinians’ struggle for equality.”
A Kansas State Department of Education official told Koontz in August that she could not be paid as a teacher trainer because she refused to certify that she was not participating in a boycott of Israel.
Judge Crabtree wrote that he is not persuaded by the state’s argument that enjoining the Kansas law will cause Israeli companies to refuse to do business in Kansas, or with Kansas companies, and thus harm the Kansas economy.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who signed the policy into law, argued that the federal government has passed such similar laws, including bands trade with Iran and Apartheid-era South Africa.
It is not however clear if the laws were identical to the latest Israel Boycott law.
“A desire to prevent discrimination against Israeli businesses is an insufficient public interest to overcome the public’s interest in protecting a constitutional right,” Crabtree wrote.
In his ruling, Crabtree wrote that Koontz and other members of the Mennonite Church have “banded together” to express collectively their dissatisfaction with Israel and influence governmental action.
“This is either viewpoint discrimination against the opinion that Israel mistreats Palestinians, or subject matter discrimination on the topic of Israel—both impermissible goals under the First Amendment,” Crabtree said.
ACLU attorney Brian Hauss was quoted as saying that the court had recognized the harms imposed by the “misguided law,” which imposes “an unconstitutional ideological litmus test.”
“This ruling should serve as a warning to government officials around the country that the First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing participation in political boycotts,” Hauss said.
Twenty-four states have such policies, including California, Alabama and Texas, according to media.
The ACLU has also filed a legal challenge to a similar law in Arizona prohibiting contractors from boycotting Israel.