ACLU challenges state boycott law

Published: Oct. 11, 2017 at 5:46 PM CDT
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The American Civil Liberties Union Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Kansas law prohibiting state contractors from participating in boycotts against Israel.

"The first amendment protects the right to participate in political boycotts, and the government of Kansas has no business imposing political litmus tests on its state contractors," says Brian Hauss.

He's the attorney with the ACLU representing Esther Koontz, a Wichita teacher who is not involved in a lawsuit that challenges the State's anti-Israel Boycott law.

The law requires people or companies contracting with the state to sign forms saying they're "not engaged in a boycott of Israel", something the ACLU says is a violation of constitutional rights.

"What the state is doing, is it's leveraging its economic power to coerce people not to engage in these activities," Hauss says.

In July, as part of a teacher training program, Esther Koontz was asked by the Department of Education to sign one of those forms.

She declined, because of her political views and involvement with the Mennonite Church USA, who previously called for boycotts of Israel.

She was then denied a contract with the state.

Hauss says previous Supreme Court cases have supported a person's expression of political views over a state's laws.

"The same principles apply here, the right to participate in political boycotts - including boycotts of Israel - is fully protected political expression and association and the state of Kansas cannot penalize people based on their engagement in that activity."

Supporters of the Anti-Israel Boycott Bill argue it's important to continue a strong trade relationship with Israel, and the law reinforces that relationship.

Eyewitness News reached out to the Kansas Attorney General's Office, as well as the Commissioner of Education - who was named as the defendant in the case - but did not hear back from either for comment.