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Federal court rules in favor of Texas school teacher, striking down anti-BDS law

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After a months long battle, a Texas school teacher was told she could return back to work after a federal court blocked an anti-BDS law in the state on the grounds that it was “likely unconstitutional.”

Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist who had been working in a Texas school district for nearly a decade, was forced to leave her job last year when she refused to sign an anti-boycott clause included in the school district’s contract.

The new contract asked employees to affirm that they did not boycott Israel and would not do so while working for the school.

When Amawi, a Palestinian-American, refused to sign on the basis that the clause infringed on her first amendment rights, she was told she could not return to work.

The new clause in her contract came as a result of a 2017 bill passed by the Texas legislature requiring that state agencies not do business with companies that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to boycott Israeli goods.

Texas was one of several states to pass the bill, which was criticized for its broad interpretation that in one case, led to victims of Hurricane Harvey applying for relief grants to sign the “no boycott” clause.

In December 2018, Amawi filed a lawsuit suit against her school district and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking an injunction that would strike the “No boycott” clause from statewide school contracts.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Pitman ruled in favor of Amawi and issued an injunction on the basis that the clause likely violated her First Amendment rights.

Judge Pitman said the following in his decision:

“(T)he Court finds that H.B. 89’s plain text, the statements surrounding its passage, and Texas’s briefing in this case reveal the statute to be a viewpoint-based restriction intended not to combat discrimination on the basis of national origin, but to silence speech with which Texas disagrees.”

The decision also listed the names of four other plaintiffs from across Texas who also filed suit after refusing to sign the “no boycott” clause in their respective contracts.

“God is great,” Amawi told the Washington Post after she received the news Thursday. “It’s a huge win not just for me, but for everybody here in Texas,” she said.

The Washington Post added that Pitman’s decision was the third case of a federal judge reversing state legislation “that aims to use public money to deter anti-Israel activity.”

Amawi’s lawyers from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) welcomed the Pitman’s decision.

“This is a complete victory of the First Amendment against Texas’s attempts to suppress speech in support of Palestine,” Gadeir Abbas, CAIR’s senior litigation attorney said after the ruling, according to the Dallas Observer. 

“More importantly, it’s a complete victory for all Texans, to engage in political speech without government censorship,” he said.

According to CAIR, as a result of Pitman’s ruling, every “No Boycott of Israel” clause in every single state contract in Texas has been stricken as unconstitutional, and state Attorney General will no longer be allowed to include or enforce the clause in state contracts.

In a press conference hosted by CAIR’s Austin chapter on Friday, Amawi directed a message to local and national politicians:

“This is a clear message to all politicians. Our communities are aware of your decisions and votes. It is important for politicians to stand up for principles and values and to be on the right side of history, and fully recognize that Texans should not be forced to take an oath to a foreign country.”

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About Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is a multimedia journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @yumna_patel

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2 Responses

  1. CigarGod
    CigarGod on April 27, 2019, 10:00 am

    I do love it when Trump and his “fine people” take one on the chin.

  2. Elizabeth Block
    Elizabeth Block on April 27, 2019, 3:15 pm

    It’s wonderful that the courts are doing their job. But … it shouldn’t be their job. And I wonder how long they will keep doing it.

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