Dickinson homeowners will no longer have to pledge not to participate in boycotts of Israel in order to receive hurricane relief money donated to the city’s disaster relief fund.
On Tuesday, Dickinson City Council voted to remove the requirement for homeowners after consulting with the city attorney about the compliance with state law, city management assistant Bryan Milward said.
Dickinson businesses applying for the grant will still be required to refrain from boycotting Israel in order to get the relief money because the city interpreted that as a requirement of a new state law, Milward said.
The change comes after a sharp rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union calling the provision unconstitutional and a violation of The First Amendment garnered national headlines.
Earlier this month, the city announced it would begin accepting applications for home repair grants for residents harmed by Hurricane Harvey with a provision requiring applicants not to boycott Israel during the time of the grant.
The city said it was following a new state law, approved by lawmakers this year and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May, which banned any contractor who supports the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign from receiving state funds.
Local state lawmakers — all of whom voted for the law — have been mum since the backlash about whether it should apply to homeowners seeking hurricane relief.
Rep. Wayne Faircloth, a Galveston Republican, and Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican, declined to respond to several requests for comment about the requirement.
Rep. Greg Bonnen, a Friendswood Republican, was not available for comment Wednesday after earlier requests.
The bill’s author, Rep. Phil King, a Parker Republican, told an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, the inclusion in the Dickinson contract was a “misunderstanding.”
“They have been in a tremendously difficult situation since the hurricane,” King said. “I think this is simply a result of confusion over the implementation of a recently approved law.”
But King defended his legislation as it relates to companies that chose to boycott Israel.
“This is America,” King said. “If you’re an individual or a company and you want to boycott Israel, that’s your right to do so. We just won’t put our taxpayer money into it.”
Because the applications were for private contributions, the legislation would not apply, King told the newspaper.
The law has drawn criticism from the ACLU and local residents who question whether it’s following the letter or spirit of the Constitution.
The ACLU of Texas said that while it doesn’t take a position on boycotts of foreign countries, it opposed laws that infringe on the right to protest.
“The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott, and the government cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression,” said ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging a similar Kansas law on behalf of a high school math teacher who is being required by the state to certify that she won’t boycott Israel if she wants to take part in a teacher training program.
The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment, the ACLU said.
The ACLU has cited a 1982 Supreme Court ruling in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. The decision in that case said that while states can regulate economic activities they cannot prohibit political boycotts.
Dickinson’s disaster grant application stated that by signing it, “the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.” As of Wednesday afternoon, the application available online still included the language.