(Atlanta, Georgia, 2/3/22) – The Georgia chapter and national office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia) is calling on all Georgia state residents to take part in its click-and-send action alert urging Governor Brian Kemp to veto House Bill 383 – a last ditch attempt by the state legislature to save the state’s anti-boycott law after a federal court ruled the original version of the law unconstitutional.
Last Friday, CAIR-Georgia, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), Project South, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta (AAAJ), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and Women Watch Afrika issued a statement declaring the newly adopted version of the state anti-boycott law would still violate the Constitution. CAIR, which filed the successful lawsuit against the law with PCFJ, also pledged to challenge the new law if approved by Governor Kemp.
The original law, which Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed in 2016, requires state employees and contractors to pledge that they do not and will not boycott the Israeli government when their contracts are worth $1,000 or more. Many legislators, including then-House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, voted against the bill on constitutional grounds.
After a federal court ruled the law unconstitutional in response to a free speech lawsuit last year, Atlanta’s Israeli consulate encouraged lawmakers to modify the law to undermine the ongoing litigation and make it less likely that Georgians would file suit against the law. The new version of the law would apply to contracts worth $100,000 or more.
In 2020, CAIR-Georgia, CAIR National and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) filed suit to overturn the law on behalf of journalist Abby Martin. The state university system cancelled Martin’s college speaking engagement when she refused to sign the loyalty oath. Martin participates in the movement to boycott Israel in protest of its human rights violations against the Palestinian people.
In a court ruling declaring Georgia’s anti-boycott law unconstitutional, Judge Mark Cohen identified extensive constitutional problems with it. He held that the anti-BDS law “prohibits inherently expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment,” which “burdens Martin’s right to free speech.”
Judge Cohen also ruled that the anti-boycott law’s requirement that Martin sign an oath to refrain from boycotting Israel is “no different than requiring a person to espouse certain political beliefs or to engage in certain political associations.”
The court relied heavily on NAACP v. Claiborne, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision protecting the right to boycott.
Similar anti-boycott measures have been enacted in 25 other states as part of an effort to block and punish the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Modeled after the global South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS movement’s stated goal is to pressure the Israeli government to end its occupation of Palestinian territory.
CAIR, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other civil rights organizations have filed free speech lawsuits against anti-BDS laws in Arkansas, Arizona, Maryland, and Texas, where CAIR won a landmark legal victory in 2019.
The federal court in Texas held that the state’s anti-boycott law “threatens to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate” on Israel and Palestine “through coercion rather than persuasion.” The Court concluded: “This the First Amendment does not allow.”
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, based in Washington, D.C., is a public interest legal organization that has litigated on behalf of political organizations and activists across the country to protect and defend First Amendment rights. For more information go to www.JusticeOnline.org.