Press Release: Pennsylvanians concerned about legislation that infringes on First Amendment rights

Update: On Friday, November 4, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed HB 2107 into law.

Pennsylvania Freedom to Boycott Coalition

October 26, 2016


Pennsylvanians Concerned About Legislation that Infringes on First Amendment Rights

Today the Pennsylvania legislature passed HB 2107, an unconstitutional bill that threatens to penalize forms of political expression protected by the First Amendment.

HB 2107 prohibits the State of Pennsylvania from contracting with companies or organizations that endorse boycotts of any person or entity on the basis of race, religion, gender, or national origin. While discouraging identity-based discrimination is a worthy objective that numerous State and federal statutes already pursue, it is clear from the language of HB 2107 that its sole purpose is to stigmatize and suppress boycotts that target Israeli government policy.

Attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and Palestine Legal sent a letter Monday to State Senators urging them to withdraw the bill, warning:

The bill’s stated purpose of targeting boycotts of Israel, its vagueness, its enormous financial penalty, and its potential for misuse, will chill and suppress speech protected by the United States Constitution.

Part of a national wave of legislation that attempts to curtail speech critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, HB 2107 is one of three such bills introduced by Pennsylvania lawmakers in recent years. These bills, and others like them, have been widely criticized by civil liberties groups, constitutional law experts, community associations, and editorial boards of major newspapers across the country.

It is clear that the purpose of HB 2107 is to suppress Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns for Palestinian human rights. Boycotts targeting Israeli government policies are politically protected activities, and long standing tools of social justice movements. By legislating against our constitutionally protected right to boycott, lawmakers have made a grave mistake with serious consequences that include the intentional chilling of free speech.

Quotes for Publication on Pennsylvania Bill HB 2107

Rahul Saksena, staff attorney, Palestine Legal - “The U.S. has a long history of non-violent boycotts as a tactic to advance civil and human rights, including the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s and the boycott of Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Recognizing this history, the Supreme Court has held that boycotts to bring about political, economic, and social change are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Boycotts for Palestinian rights are no different. BDS campaigns do not target individuals based on religion or national origin, but rather take aim at state policies that violate the human rights of Palestinians. If enacted, this bill will chill constitutionally-protected speech and activity of Pennsylvanians who make the ethical decision to stand up for human rights. Pennsylvania lawmakers should stay out of the business of condemning non-violent human rights movements, and should focus instead on defending our constitutional rights."

Mike Merryman-Lotze, Palestine-Israel Program Director, American Friends Service Committee - "Over the past three years several waves of attacks on BDS have been introduced at the federal, state and local levels.  First were a series of non-binding resolutions, then at least a dozen states passed laws penalizing BDS activity. Two were proposed last year in Pennsylvania which prohibited contracts with BDS supporters, created a blacklist of BDS supporters, and barred state aid to universities and colleges that supported BDS. Probably because such laws were widely condemned as unconstitutional, a new wave of state laws is underway that attempts to obscure the anti-BDS intent. We condemn the Pennsylvania Legislature for its efforts to undermine our First Amendment rights, and for seeking to do so in a surreptitious way.”

Rabbi Alissa Wise, Deputy Director, Jewish Voice for Peace - “This bill, like others around the country, is intended to distract people from the real issues at hand: the policies of the Israeli state that displace, discriminate against, and enforce a decades-long military occupation on a disenfranchised Palestinian population in total contempt of international law. The goal of the BDS movement is to spur political change and secure full civic equality for Palestinians and Jews, something that I strongly support as a rabbi dedicated to working towards justice for all people. Whether we support BDS or not, let us protect the right to express dissenting political views. The vibrancy of our democracy depends on it."

The Pennsylvania Freedom to Boycott Coalition is an alliance of local and national organizations that support the right to use boycott as a tool to achieve freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians.  It includes Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Legal, the American Friends Service Committee, the Christian-Jewish Allies Working for Justice in Palestine and Israel, the The Philadelphia Coalition for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

Click here to read the letter.