Politics & Government

ACLU sues over Kansas law banning contracts with Israel boycotters

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The American Civil Liberties Union is asking a federal court to strike down a new Kansas law banning state contracts with anyone who boycotts Israel.

House Bill 2409 prohibits state agencies and departments from contracting with any person or company who is boycotting Israel. The state requires written certification from service, supply, IT and construction contractors that they aren’t boycotting the Jewish state.

The bill sailed through Kansas House and Senate this legislative session and went into effect July 1. Other states have passed similar legislation, a reaction to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement of Israeli businesses and entities.

Lawmakers touted the law as a way to bolster the state’s trade and business partnership with Israel. But opponents like the ACLU say it violates the First Amendment by restricting government contractors’ political expression and discriminating against political speech based on viewpoint.

The ACLU is representing Esther Koontz, a curriculum coach at Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet School in Wichita. She’s qualified to train teachers statewide as a contractor with the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program.

After a presentation about Israeli treatment of Palestinians to her Mennonite Church congegration, Koontz is not buying products made by Israeli companies and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in occupied territories, according to the legal complaint.

Koontz did not sign the certification that she was not participating in a boycott of Israel. So the state won’t contract with her and give her teacher training assignments under the new law.

“The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support,” Koontz said in a press release. “I’m disappointed that I can’t be a math trainer for the state of Kansas because of my political views about human rights across the globe.”

The ACLU wants the law struck down and to bar the Kansas Department of Education from requiring contractors to certify they aren’t boycotting Israel.

“Koontz’s decision to engage in a politically-motivated consumer boycott … has no bearing on her skills or qualifications for serving as a teacher trainer in KSDE’s teacher training program, nor does it relate to the substance of that work,” according to the complaint.

The Kansas Department of Education referred questions about the lawsuit and Koontz’s contract to the State Attorney General’s Office, which said it had received the lawsuit and was reviewing it.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar