Advocates Argue Bill Violates First Amendment
January 31, 2014, New York - The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the National Lawyers Guild- New York City Chapter (NLG-NYC) sent New York Assembly Members a letter urging them to oppose pending legislation that would deny state funding to colleges and universities that fund membership and activities in organizations supporting boycotts of a list of countries, including Israel. According to the legislation’s sponsors, the bills S.6438 (passed in the state Senate on January 28) and A.8392 (on the agenda of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee February 4th) were drafted in response to the American Studies Association’s recent resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
“The New York legislature’s anti-boycott bills are unconstitutional, a threat to academic freedom, and a disgrace,” said Maria LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “The bills’ sponsors have not even tried to veil their intent to stop concerned citizens from using a nonviolent and historical tool for social change, because it’s aimed at Israel’s policies.”
The CCR and NLG-NYC letter urges lawmakers to recognize that denying state 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 legislation to punish boycotts of the South African apartheid regime “would have been an unacceptable outcome then, and it is an unacceptable outcome now.”
“Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with a cause that a boycott is addressing, or whether a boycott is an appropriate way to address that cause, the First Amendment right to engage in a boycott aimed at bringing about political and social change must be upheld and protected,” said Elena Cohen, President of the NLG-NYC.
The American Studies Association endorsed a resolution in December, 2013 to boycott Israeli institutions in protest of the Israeli occupation and Israel's discriminatory laws and policies towards Palestinian students and scholars in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel. 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 Assembly Members.
See CCR’s statement on the bill’s passage in the New York state senate.
For more information on the legality of academic boycott, please see Palestinian Solidarity Legal Support’s frequently asked questions.
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.