Chapter 808 of the Texas Government Code bars state entities from doing business with contractors who participate in the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. But in a move that is sure to be welcomed by many Democrats, a federal judge has just said the law runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
According to The Hill, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen sided last week with Rasmy Hassouna, a Palestinian-American man who owns A&R Engineering and Testing Inc.
Although Hassouna’s company previously had a contract with the city of Houston, he refused to renew the agreement rather than comply with anti-BDS provisions.
“Texas’s ban on contracting with any boycotter of Israel constitutes viewpoint discrimination that chills constitutionally protected political advocacy in support of Palestine,” the business owner’s complaint said, according to The Hill.
“Protected by the First Amendment”
In a decision issued on Friday, Hanen agreed with Hassouna’s assertion that the rule in question violated his rights under the First Amendment.
“The speech contemplated by [the company] may make some individuals — especially those who identify with Israel — uncomfortable, anxious, or even angry,” Hanen acknowledged in his ruling.
“Nevertheless, speech — even speech that upsets other segments of the population — is protected by the First Amendment unless it escalates into violence and misconduct,” the federal judge insisted.
According to The Hill, Gadeir Abbas, who serves as the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ senior litigation attorney, issued a statement hailing Hanen’s decision, saying it represented “a major victory of the First Amendment against Texas’s repeated attempts to suppress speech in support of Palestine.”
“Stand with Israel”
Of course, the controversy surrounding anti-BDS efforts isn’t new in Texas. Fox Business reported in 2017 that the Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar had ordered his staff to review whether the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s or its parent company had contravened Chapter 808.
“Texans have made it very clear that they stand with Israel and its people,” Hegar said at the time, according to Fox. “We oppose actions that could undermine Israel’s economy and its people.”
Hegar went on to declare that “Texans have better options for a sweet treat this summer” before recommending that residents purchase products from the Texas-based Blue Bell ice cream company instead.
“Blue Bell was founded in Brenham, Texas,” he said, “and, for my money, tastes much better than the stuck-up stuff made by a foreign-owned company started in Vermont.”