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Federal Judge Blocks Law Against Israel Boycott

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 01, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal judge said a Kansas woman may boycott Israel, and the state cannot require otherwise.

In Koontz v. Watson, the judge enjoined the state's enforcement of a Kansas law that requires people who contract with the state to certify they are not engaged in the boycott.

Esther Koontz, a public school teacher, sued for relief saying "she could not sign the form in good conscience." The American Civil Liberties Union called it a "major victory" for free speech.

"Ideological Litmus Test"

Kansas enacted the law in response to BDS, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel. It aims to pressure Israel to end violations of Palestinian rights, according to the ACLU.

"The court has rightly recognized the serious First Amendment harms being inflicted by this misguided law, which imposes an unconstitutional ideological litmus test," said ACLU attorney Brian Hauss.

Judge Daniel Crabtree said the Kansas law violated the Constitution's protections for free speech. Americans have the right to participate in a boycott, he said, "like the one punished by the Kansas law."

Koontz, a Mennonite, began boycotting Israel businesses last year. She was motivated after seeing a presentation about conditions in Israel and Palestine.

Mennonite Church

The Mennonite Church passed a resolution calling on members to take steps to redress injustice and violence in the Israel-Palestine region. Koontz decided not to buy any products or services from Israeli companies.

Then in July, a program director asked her to sign the certification required by the Kansas law. The director said Koontz could not be paid unless she signed.

Crabtree said the law -- Kan. Stat. Ann. Section 75-3740f -- was unconstitutional. He enjoined the law and "any other Kansas statute, law, policy, or practice that requires independent contractors to declare that they are not participating in a boycott of Israel."

The court also ordered the parties to meet and confer to discuss scheduling for the remainder of the case.

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