WASHINGTON (JTA) — A federal court in Kansas has suspended a state law requiring contractors to swear they will not boycott Israel, saying it violates speech rights.
The decision Tuesday by the U.S. Court for the District of Kansas is not final, and the parties — a teacher trainer and the Kansas secretary of education — may still go to trial. But the decision’s unusually strong language suggests that the Kansas state government has the tougher case to make.
The plaintiff, Esther Koontz, brought the case in October with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Koontz was denied a state contract because she participates in the anti-Israel boycott. The law, which took effect on July 1, requires that any person or company that contracts with the state submit a written certification that they are “not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel.”
“Plaintiff’s harm stems not from her decision to refuse to sign the certification, but rather from the plainly unconstitutional choice the Kansas Law forces plaintiff to make: She either can contract with the state or she can support a boycott of Israel,” the court said in its decision. “Her harm is ongoing because the Kansas Law is currently chilling plaintiff’s and other putative state contractors’ speech rights.”
Koontz, who said she shares her opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with other members of her Mennonite congregation in Hutchinson, Kansas, had sought a training position with the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships Program.
The ACLU is mounting similar challenges to laws passed recently in other states that ban state entities from doing business with those who adhere to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.
It is also opposed to a proposed federal bill that would target BDS groups.