ACLU drops lawsuit over Israel boycott law

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The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday dropped its lawsuit against Kansas over a law barring state contractors from boycotting Israel.

The ACLU agreed to dismiss the lawsuit after the Legislature narrowed the scope of the law although a lawyer for the civil liberties group still thinks it unconstitutional.

The ACLU sued the state when a Wichita teacher wasn’t allowed to participate in a state teacher training program because she refused to certify she wasn’t boycotting Israel.

Earlier this year, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law, finding that it violated the teacher’s First Amendment rights.

The Legislature later went back and rewrote the law to address its constitutional deficiencies. The new law no longer applies to individuals and extends only to contracts worth more than $100,000.

The new language requires companies to certify they are not boycotting goods or services from Israel that constitute an “integral” part of the business they want to do with the state.

The House passed the new law on a 88-32 vote. It passed the Senate 36-1.

“Thanks to the court’s ruling, Kansas lawmakers have now scaled back this law, but it still runs afoul of the First Amendment,” ACLU attorney Brian Hauss said in a statement.

“While the changes reduce the number of people required to sign the anti-boycott certification, the fundamental purpose of the law — to suppress political boycotts of Israel and chill protected expression — remains unconstitutional,” Hauss said.

The case will cost the state $41,602 that will be paid to the plaintiff because she won a preliminary injunction that ultimately led to the changes in the law.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt claimed a victory.

“We have successfully preserved the ability of the state of Kansas, through its lawmakers, to choose to stand in support of the state of Israel,” Schmidt said in a statement.

The ACLU’s lawsuit centered on the case of Esther Koontz, a member of the Mennonite Church USA and a math teacher.

Koontz, a curriculum coach at Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet School in Wichita, was not allowed to participate in a state program training other math teachers because she refused to certify that she wasn’t boycotting Israel.

Adhering to her church’s beliefs, Koontz decided not to purchase anything made by Israeli companies and other companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, the ACLU said.

“Koontz participated in this boycott in order to protest the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and to pressure the country to change its policies.”

A federal judge sided with Koontz, issuing a preliminary injunction that stopped the law while legal proceedings moved forward.

The judge found that the Constitution protected Koontz’s right to participate in a boycott like the one “punished by Kansas law.”