A federal judge on Tuesday blocked a controversial Kansas law barring the state from contracting with supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel over its ongoing treatment of the Palestinians.
Judge Daniel Crabtree issued his preliminary injunction against the law, which was passed last July, in response to a lawsuit filed by public school teacher Esther Koontz, a member of the Mennonite faith who refused to certify that she was against boycotting Israel. As a contractor with the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program, where she trained other teachers across the state, Koontz’s refusal to sign the mandated certification meant that she could no longer work in the program.
Writing that his injunction was “in the public interest,” the judge asserted that the U.S. Supreme Court “has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.”
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican who supported the anti-BDS law, criticized the injunction and the ACLU, which is representing Koontz in the case.
“I think they will lose on appeal,” Brownback said. “These types of laws have been passed for years at the federal level. Whether it’s on Iran or really a number, South Africa and apartheid. You’ve had laws like this for years and they’ve been upheld.”
Crabtree’s injunction blocks the law for the duration of Koontz’s suit. However, it has the potential for far-reaching implications beyond this case, as a number of other states, including Texas and Arizona, have similar laws on the books. Tuesday’s ruling marks the first time a federal judge has weighed in on the issue.
“The court has rightly recognized the serious First Amendment harms being inflicted by this misguided law, which imposes an unconstitutional ideological litmus test,” ACLU attorney Brian Hauss said in a statement. “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.”
A similar measure, “the Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” was introduced at the federal level by Maryland Senator Ben Cardin last March. In response, the ACLU argued that “By penalizing those who support international boycotts of Israel, H.R. 1697 seeks only to punish the exercise of constitutional rights.”