(ATLANTA, GA – 2/10/2020) — On Monday, February 10, the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia), CAIR Legal Defense Fund, and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund plan to announce the filing of a federal free speech lawsuit against the University System of Georgia, which cancelled a journalist’s speaking engagement on a college campus when she refused to sign a state-mandated oath pledging not to boycott the Israeli government.
LIVESTREAM: CAIR Georgia Facebook Page
During the press conference, activist, journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin plans to speak about her experience, while attorneys from CAIR and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund plan to present details of the federal lawsuit, which is scheduled to be filed at 9:30 am today in the Northern District Court of Georgia.
In 2016, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law SB 327, which requires any person or company that enters into a contract with the State of Georgia worth $1,000 or more to sign a loyalty oath pledging not engage in political boycotts of the Israeli government based on its treatment of Palestinians.
Numerous advocacy groups and state legislators, including then-House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, opposed the law as a violation of free speech.
Similar measures have been enacted in 25 other states as part of an effort to block 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 last year.
The federal court in Texas held that 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.”
In a statement, CAIR-Georgia Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said:
“By canceling a journalist’s speaking engagement on a college campus because she refused to pledge support for a foreign government, the State of Georgia has blatantly violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.
“Just as African-Americans had the right to participate in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and just as anti-apartheid activists had the right to boycott South Africa, journalists like Abby Martin have the right to boycott the Israeli government over its human rights abuses of Palestinians.”
“Every American has the constitutional right to engage in political boycotts, and the State of Georgia does not have the right to punish any American for doing so.”
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, stated:
“In 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. was criminalized for leading a boycott against Jim Crow apartheid in Alabama. Southern states enforced anti-boycott laws to punish and derail civil rights organizing. The Supreme Court eventually made clear that peaceful boycotts are a protected form of political speech and expression.
“Nonetheless, filmmaker and journalist Abby Martin has now been barred by Georgia from contracting to speak on campus because she too advocates a boycott against apartheid, this time the apartheid enforced by the government of Israel against the Palestinian people. Government directives as to what political views a person may or may not advocate contravene fundamental First Amendment rights, are fatal to a free society and must be struck down.”
In a statement, CAIR Legal Defense Fund Senior Litigation Attorney Gadeir Abbas said:
“There is no place where free speech is more important than on campus. And this attempt to suppress Abby’s views–denying students, academics, and others from hearing her lecture–is as brazen as it is illegal.”
“In adopting this anti-BDS law, Georgia has prioritized the policy preferences of a foreign country over the free speech rights of Americans, like Abby, who speak on this state’s college campuses.”
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.
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.