In Dickinson, Texas, located just outside Houston, residents were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in August and the local government there began accepting applications for grants to rebuild homes and businesses on October 11. The recovery fund, financed primarily by the municipality, is accessible only to applicants who verify that they "will not boycott Israel during the term of this [accord]".
In a statement released Thursday, ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura called Dickinson's inclusion of the requirement "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".
Texas recently passed a bill, House Bill 89, otherwise known as the "Anti-Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions Act", which placed restrictions on the state of Texas from entering into contracts or investmenting in public or private entities which are alleged to boycott Israel.
Rights groups, including the ACLU, similarly slammed the city of Dickinson's decision as a violation of free speech. "We believe that the requirement is wildly unconstitutional and we're urging anybody who is being affected by it, anybody asked to sign the certification, to contact the ACLU of Texas", ACLU Staff Attorney Brian Hauss tells Bustle.
Dickinson City Management assistant Bryan Milward attributed the clause to a state law, signed in May, that requires all state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel. So far, 21 states across the United States have enacted laws against the movement they say alienates an important "ally".
According to the ACLU, the Supreme Court ruled that political boycotts were protected under the First Amendment in the 1982 case NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.The case involved white merchants in Claiborne County, Mississippi, who, after they'd been boycotted, attempted to sue the organizations and individuals that had participated in the boycott for lost earnings.
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OUTRAGEOUS - a condition of hurricane relief in Dickinson, TX requires that you agree not to Boycott Israel.
When he signed the bill into law in May he said that "any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy".
As the organization pointed out, the Supreme Court in 1982 ruled the government can not put a stop to any "non-violent, politically motivated boycott created to force governmental and economic change".
"The city in no way advocates on behalf of the underlying political issue, but we're doing everything in our power to follow state law", he said.
"It would violate the first amendment to the Constitution to require someone to abstain from a boycott of a country because boycotts are treated the same as speech by the law", Kallinen said.
Texas is not the only state to make the government's compassion towards hurricane victims contingent upon their political beliefs.