Center for Constitutional Rights
Advocates Assert Bill Violates First Amendment
February 12, 2014, New York - The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations-USA (CAIR-USA) sent members of the House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee a letter urging them to oppose legislation that would deny federal funding to colleges and universities that participate in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars. According to the legislation’s sponsors, H.R. 4009 was drafted in response to the American Studies Association’s recent resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
“The Congressional anti-boycott bill is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” said Maria LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “By singling out for punishment advocacy for boycotts aimed at changing Israeli policy, the bill’s sponsors attempt to dictate what kind of political speech is acceptable on college campuses, where free inquiry and debate should be able to thrive without government interference.”
The CCR, NLG and CAIR-USA letter urges lawmakers to recognize that denying federal aid based on such protected speech violates the First Amendment and threatens academic freedom. It stresses that boycotts to bring about political, social and economic change are protected speech under the First Amendment, and warns that legislation to deny public funding in response to the assertion of unpopular views would likely face Constitutional challenges. The letter also notes that the United States is itself a product of a colonial boycott against British, Irish, and West Indian goods.
"This McCarthyist bill seeks to punish universities engaged in the honored American tradition of robust, political debate,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, President of the NLG. “It would have a chilling effect on free speech and advocacy for Palestinian rights."
"It is clearly unconstitutional for members of Congress to attempt to legislate against political viewpoints with which they disagree," said CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw. "The same peaceful method of political activism has been used to challenge injustice in America and worldwide, including against one of the greatest forms of injustice in our time -- Apartheid."
The American Studies Association endorsed a resolution in December, 2013 to boycott Israeli academic institutions in protest of the central role that they play in Israel’s denial of Palestinian human rights, in an effort to contribute to the larger movement for social justice in Israel/Palestine. The ASA resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is available here, and an explanation of the resolution is available here.
See the full letter to the House.
See CCR’s letter to New York Assembly Members regarding the New York anti-boycott bill.
For more information on the legality of academic boycott, please see Palestinian Solidarity Legal Support’s frequently asked questions.
The National Lawyers Guild was formed in 1937 as the nation’s first racially integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.
CAIR's vision is to be a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding. CAIR's mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.