The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a lawsuit today challenging a state law requiring government contractors to certify they are not engaged in boycotts of Israel or territories controlled by Israel. The lawsuit argues that the law, passed by the 2017 legislature and taking effect this year, violates the First Amendment’s protection against government intrusion into political speech. The suit was filed against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, two state university systems and two school districts.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four Texans who say they were forced to either sign the certification or lose existing or potential employment. Among the four plaintiffs is George Hale, an independent journalist who has worked on a contract basis for KETR since 2016. KETR’s broadcast license is held by Texas A&M University-Commerce, a member institution of the Texas A&M University System, which abides by laws for state government entities. Hale, who signed the certification in order to renew his contractor status, remains under contract.
Other plaintiffs include John Pluecker, a freelance writer who says he lost two contracts from the University of Houston for refusing to sign the certification; Obinna Dennar, a Ph.D. candidate at Rice University who says she forfeited payment for judging a debate tournament rather than sign the certification; and Zachary Abdelhadi, a student at Texas State University, who says he had to forego judging opportunities at high school debate tournaments.
The lawsuit names Paxton, the University of Houston System, the Klein Independent School District, the Lewisville Independent School District, and the Texas A&M University System as defendants.
The suit comes a day after a speech pathologist who had worked as a contractor for Pflugerville elementary schools filed a similar suit against the Pflugerville Independent School District and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Bahia Amawi says she declined to sign the pledge, which was presented to her as an addendum to her contract. Amawi declined to sign the certification, and as a result, her contract was terminated, she said. Amawi’s suit was filed with help from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The ACLU said in a statement that the organization takes no position on boycotts of Israel or any foreign country, but that the group’s position is that the First Amendment prohibits the government from requiring a political stance on such boycotts as a condition of contract employment.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law last year. He defended the law on social media yesterday posting "Texas stands with Israel. Period." The law was passed with bipartisan support by large margins in both the Texas House and the Texas Senate in the 2017 Texas Legislature.