It’s a Free Country – Haseeb Abdullah

We learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in school. We learned about the NAACP. If someone was trying to tell you what to do, you could say, “It’s a free country.” 

 

When the war in Iraq started, some Americans participated in a boycott of French products.

 

This is a protected right, according to the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

 

The right to boycott is protected by the Constitution. And yet the state of Texas (along with 34 other states!) have anti-BDS laws. BDS stands for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. It’s a nonviolent Palestinian-led movement with the following objectives: 

  • Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories
  • Removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank
  • Full equality for Arab-Palestinian residents of Israel
  • Rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties

“The US has a history of peaceful boycotts, sometimes controversial and divisive, to challenge human rights abuses and seek political change, including the 1960s NAACP boycott of white-owned businesses in Mississippi and a 2018 boycott of the National Rifle Association. Boycotts also played key roles in international campaigns against apartheid in South Africa and atrocities in Darfur.” (Human Rights Watch)

 

“BDS is a common form of protest engaged in by both individuals and many major companies, including Air Canada and Ben and Jerry’s. The BDS movement does not focus on the Israeli people or the Jewish faith; rather, its purpose is to put pressure on the Israeli government to 

treat the Palestinian people with equal freedom and dignity. The very act of boycotting in itself constitutes a peaceful tool widely used by activists in the U.S. and around the world” (Opening Brief, CLCMA, 2022)

 

Mr. Haseeb Abdullah’s retirement benefits are managed by TCDRS (Texas County and District Retirement System) and ERS (Employee’s retirement system of Texas). In 2017, Texas promulgated Chapter 808 of the Texas Government Code (enacted by House Bill 89). Chapter 808 requires ERS and TCDRS to refuse to invest in, or divest fund assets from, companies that Texas has determined engage in BDS. 

 

Mr. Abdullah sought the support of the MLFA-funded Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America (CLCMA). Our attorneys brought suit, arguing that Chapter 808 is unconstitutional under the free speech and establishment clauses of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause. Chapter 808 favors one viewpoint over another and benefits one religion over another. Retirement benefits should have the goal of producing the best financial outcome, regardless of whether a company supports BDS or not. Our initial case was dismissed; however, we have appealed, arguing that the Texas anti-BDS legislation is unconstitutional. 

 

MLFA fights for an American in which all citizens have access to the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Join us in supporting the rights of Palestinian Americans.

 

 

Sources

 

Opening Brief In the United States Court of Appeals For the Fifth Circuit, Abdullah v. Paxton, 2022.

 

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/23/us-states-use-anti-boycott-laws-punish-responsible-businesses

 

https://bdsmovement.net/

 

The Constitutional Right to Boycott – The Atlantic

 

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – Wikipedia