The city of Dickinson, Texas, which was hit exceptionally hard by Hurricane Harvey, is requiring applicants for Harvey rebuilding funds to vow they won't boycott Israel in a move the American Civil Liberties Union has called "an egregious violation of the First Amendment".
Although the hurricane devastated the entire Houston metro area with record rainfall and destructive flooding, a local television news station reported in early September that "damage in Dickinson may be the worst of Harvey", with more than 7,000 homes and 88 businesses "significantly damaged".
"The First Amendment protects Americans' right to boycott, and the government can not condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression", said ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura in a press release.
When he signed the bill into law in May he said that "any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy".
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The primary goal of the law is to "scare people away" from participating in "protected First Amendment activity", Brian Hauss, an ACLU staff attorney said.
"In short, the Texas law being enforced by the City of Dickinson - as well as other cities throughout Texas, including Galveston, Austin and San Antonio - is leveraging vital government funds to suppress one side of a prominent public debate". The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously supported the boycotters.
The city attorney of Dickinson said they were just following the law, according to KTRK.
"The city in no way advocates on behalf of the underlying political issue, but we're doing everything in our power to follow state law", he said.
Dickinson applicants have to agree to act as an "independent contractor" in order to receive grant money from the city. The teacher, Esther Koontz, did not sign the contract due to her religious beliefs, and was denied funding. "These laws have been popping up over the past few years as part of what we view as a sustained legislative assault on the right to boycott", Hauss told Bustle. "In terms of enforcement, what I think is really pernicious about these laws is they're created to scare people", Hauss told Bustle. "That sort of chill is exactly what the first amendment is meant to protect from happening".