I have previously written about the increasing state and federal efforts to impose bans on contractors and employees who refuse to sign agreements not to boycott Israeli products. The agreements raise serious free speech concerns under the First Amendment and contravene a host of constitutional rights from speech to religion to association. Now a speech pathologist in Texas is suing after she was barred from employment with the school district after nine years of work with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas. The lawsuit on her behalf was filed in the Western District of Texas is the latest federal challenge to these laws.
Bahia Amawi is a U.S. citizen who was told that she can no longer work with the Pflugerville Independent School District because she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. The school district will not only lose someone with an advanced degree and considerable experience but multiple languages. Amawi was born in Austria and fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic).
On August 13th, the school district offered to extend her contract for another year but the standard contract had one addition among the certifications: a pledge that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”
The sweeping language would prevent even advocating for the boycott or any association that could be viewed as “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.”
For conservatives who correctly criticize the denial of free speech on campuses and other forums, these laws undermine such principles. Amawi and her family avoid buying Israeli products as do many Americans who oppose the policies of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians. The point is not the merits of such boycotts but the right to make such decisions and still work as a public servant in Texas.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is handling the lawsuit against the law, HB 89, which went into effect last year. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of four people including “John Pluecker, a freelance writer who lost two service contracts from the University of Houston; George Hale, a reporter for KETR who was forced to sign the certification against his conscience in order to keep his job; Obinna Dennar, a Ph.D. candidate at Rice University, who was forced to forfeit payment for judging at a debate tournament; and Zachary Abdelhadi, a student at Texas State University, who has had to forego opportunities to judge high school debate tournaments.”
Since 2017, the ACLU has successfully blocked anti-boycott state laws in Kansas and Arizona.