A prominent civil liberties organization Thursday issued a sharp rebuke of a city of Dickinson home repair grant application forbidding homeowners who receive the disaster aid from participating in a boycott of Israel.
Dickinson’s disaster grant application states 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.”
The city said it was following a law passed by the state 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.
But the requirement is unconstitutional and a clear violation of the First Amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday.
The union 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 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,” ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura said.
“Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of ‘subversive’ activity.”
Dickinson announced on social media Wednesday the grants were available, and commenters immediately questioned the requirement against boycotting Israel.
“Why on the last page does it talk about not boycotting Israel?” Baytown resident Tracy Martinez asked. “What does that have to do with receiving funds?”
“Oh wow. How is that legal?” another commenter, Matt Smith, asked.
The city pointed to a state law known as the “Anti-Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions” bill, which Dickinson has interpreted as a requirement for all city contracts.
The city opened the grant applications to Dickinson residents devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The grants are funded by donations to the Dickinson Harvey Relief Fund, the city said.
In May, Abbott signed into law House Bill 99, authored by Republican Texas House Rep. Phil King, prohibiting state agencies from contracting with, and certain public funds from investing in, companies that boycott Israel.
“As Israel’s No. 1 trading partner in the United States, Texas is proud to reaffirm its support for the people of Israel and we will continue to build on our historic partnership,” Abbott said on May 2.
“Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”
The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union 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.