Advocates Assert Bill Violates First Amendment
New York – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations-USA (CAIR-USA) sent members of the House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee a letter urging them to oppose legislation that would deny federal funding to colleges and universities that participate in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars. According to the legislation’s sponsors, H.R. 4009 was drafted in response to the American Studies Association’s recent resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
“The Congressional anti-boycott bill is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” said Maria LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “By singling out for punishment advocacy for boycotts aimed at changing Israeli policy, the bill’s sponsors attempt to dictate what kind of political speech is acceptable on college campuses, where free inquiry and debate should be able to thrive without government interference.”
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The CCR, NLG and CAIR-USA letter urges lawmakers to recognize that denying federal aid based on such protected speech violates the First Amendment and threatens academic freedom. It stresses that boycotts to bring about political, social and economic change are protected speech under the First Amendment, and warns that legislation to deny public funding in response to the assertion of unpopular views would likely face Constitutional challenges. The letter also notes that the United States is itself a product of a colonial boycott against British, Irish, and West Indian goods.
“This McCarthyist bill seeks to punish universities engaged in the honored American tradition of robust, political debate,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, President of the NLG. “It would have a chilling effect on free speech and advocacy for Palestinian rights.”
“It is clearly unconstitutional for members of Congress to attempt to legislate against political viewpoints with which they disagree,” said CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw. “The same peaceful method of political activism has been used to challenge injustice in America and worldwide, including against one of the greatest forms of injustice in our time — Apartheid.”
The American Studies Association endorsed a resolution in December, 2013 to boycott Israeli academic institutions in protest of the central role that they play in Israel’s denial of Palestinian human rights, in an effort to contribute to the larger movement for social justice in Israel/Palestine. The ASA resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is available here, and an explanation of the resolution is available here.
See the full letter to the House.
See CCR’s letter to New York Assembly Members regarding the New York anti-boycott bill.
For more information on the legality of academic boycott, please see Palestinian Solidarity Legal Support’s frequently asked questions.