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Muslim civil rights group sues Maryland over Israel boycott ban

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during the Republican Governors Association annual conference on Nov. 28, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(RNS) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit Wednesday (Jan. 9) challenging Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order banning state agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel.

Signed by Hogan in October 2017, the “No Boycott of Israel” order aims to combat the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that seeks to punish Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, which Hogan has termed “economic discrimination” against Israel.

Civil rights advocates have long lobbied against measures banning BDS boycotts, saying they violate freedom of speech.

“It is unconstitutional and dangerous, especially because it prioritizes the interests of a foreign government who is in violation of international law over Marylanders’ First Amendment rights,” said Zainab Chaudry, CAIR’s director of Maryland outreach.

The lawsuit, which names Hogan and state Attorney General Brian Frosh on behalf of plaintiff Syed Saqib Ali, is the sixth federal lawsuit of its kind. Twenty-six states currently have some form of a ban on supporting the BDS movement, including laws requiring contractors to take a personal oath not to participate in boycotts.

CAIR is also filing a First Amendment challenge to a similar law in Texas, where a Muslim woman of Palestinian descent recently lost her job of nine years after refusing to sign an anti-BDS pledge in order to work as a children’s speech pathologist in public schools.

Ali, the Maryland plaintiff, served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 2007 to 2011 and is a software engineer who applied for a state contract to build a software tool that would compare life insurance policies. But Ali found that in order to apply he would first have to certify that he was not currently boycotting Israel or any Israel-occupied territories and that he would not during the term of his contract.

An excerpt from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s October 2017 “No Boycott of Israel” executive order

Ali, who has long boycotted Israel and its occupied territories, refused.

“Palestinians … live under a brutal military occupation and until that occupation is ended, I decided I will boycott Israel,” Ali said at a news conference Wednesday in Baltimore. “It is my First Amendment right and it is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”

He also accused Hogan of making an “end around” by issuing his directive after the anti-BDS legislation had been rejected several times in both houses of the Maryland Legislature. A co-founder of Freedom2Boycott in Maryland, Ali told the Baltimore Jewish Times in 2017 that the ACLU would file and win a lawsuit against the order.

Ali noted that he has also boycotted the state of North Carolina, because of laws criticized as anti-LGBT, and that he is currently boycotting businesses and properties owned by President Trump and his family. All these boycotts are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, he said.

“Boycott activity occupies a special place in the history of the First Amendment,” CAIR senior litigation attorney Gadeir Abbas said at the news conference, “from the boycotts of British tea to the Montgomery bus boycotts to boycotts activity directed at ending South African apartheid.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has specifically upheld the constitutional right to boycotting time and time again, Abbas noted.

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that boycotts are a form of constitutionally protected speech in spite of any economic damage they may cause, and in 1996, it ruled that the government cannot terminate a contract to punish a contractor’s free speech.

Hogan dismissed free speech concerns when he signed the order, saying BDS boycotts “are asking people to discriminate against Israel. It’s clear. There’s no argument to the contrary that makes any sense.”

The executive order states that businesses involved in anti-Israel boycotts “pose undue risks” and contracting with them “makes the State a passive participant in private-sector commercial discrimination.”

About the author

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan is a Boston-based journalist reporting on American Muslims and millennial faith for RNS. Her newsletter, Creeping Sharia, focuses on Muslims in the U.S. Previously, she was the social media editor at RNS.

37 Comments

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  • Why should American citizens’ freedom of expression be restricted by a foreign country? Why should government punish someone who says “Boycott Israel”? These restrictive laws and executive orders attack basic American rights to say and buy what we please. Remember the Boston tea Party? Remember the Montgomery bus boycott? A boycott of Israel is no different.

  • That might be the only point that matters…. TO YOU.

    Of course you probably support the criminalization of “Hate speech” so long as your “team” gets to define what that is.

  • Oh, sorry for the lack of clarity. The only *legal* point that matters, and therefore, that matters *to all of us* is that it’s unconstitutional prohibition of speech. Free speech IS one of the constitutional freedoms you support, right?

  • Poor naive little ideologist. The Constitution says whatever five unelected political hacks say that it says. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • When this Muslim group takes a stand against the horrors dictated by their Koran, I might listen. Until then, any move to make Islam seem peaceful and caring is absurd.

  • You don’t realize that the issue of law involved here is not Islam, or Voodoo, or any other religious affinity? It’s about the constitutional right to freedom of speech. If you realized it was about this fundamental freedom, then would you listen?

  • Free speech? How about this for speaking freely:

    Islam and it laws give women almost no rights and treats them like fodder for the male species as so bluntly noted by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her autobiography, Infidel.

    “Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, circumcised as a child, educated by radical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she uncovered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It’s a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wretched life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hirsi Ali escaped — and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women.”
    ref: Washington Post book review.

    some excerpts:

    p. 47 paperback issue:

    “Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly beaten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their screams resounded across the courtyards. “No! Please! By Allah!”

    p.68:

    “The Pakistanis were Muslims but they too had castes. The Untouchable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker skin. The others would not play with them because they were untouchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were touchable: we touched them see? but also horrifying to think of yourself as untouchable, despicable to the human race.”

    p.309

    “Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were killed by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exaggerating.”

    p. 347

    “The kind of thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brotherhood of Kenya and Somalia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feudal mind-set based on tribal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypocrisy, and double standards. It relies on the technological advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam”.

  • Based on your emotional response to what is a legal matter, you need to change your moniker to “irrational conclusions”.

  • Except for those decent, intelligent people who believe all nations should be held accountable for their actions and policies. Nobody gets a “pass.”

  • And so…that somehow justifies that the U.S. need not apply our constitutional law?
    That’s irrational. And illegal.

  • There you go again with the Irrational Conclusions! “It” can’t declare war, and America binds itself to uphold its constitution, regardless of another party’s actions.

    You really need to try harder at this if you expect to pass the citizenship exam.

  • The legal principle here isn’t about anyone’s religion. It’s about whether or not a state can compel a private entity not to engage in a boycott. More broadly, this involves compelling an entity to do business with someone it would rather not. 

    Let’s take religion and Israel out of it and use a different (yet still politically-fraught) example, that of the NRA. Should a state have the power to force people/businesses to continue doing business with the NRA (which has been boycotted since early last year)? A number of companies have severed ties with them. Is it a good idea, therefore, for a state to force them to continue doing business with the NRA, even if they don’t want to? 

  • And THIS is your Rational Conclusion?
    Well, it’s fun, at least. Try another fortune cookie and let’s see what it’s answer is.

  • The US War on Terror i.e. War on Islam so far costing over us over one trillion dollars and thousands of lives. Yes, US citizens who are terrorists normally Muslim in belief still unfortunately have constitutional rights but the line is getting fuzzier after each Muslim terrorist act. The best solution I have seen to date:

    From Hipshot:

    “American Muslims agree to leave the United States in a one-for-one exchange for Jews from Israel. Dismantle Israel. Problem solved!”

  • (That might be the longest Fortune Cookie fortune I’ve ever seen.)

    But I can’t believe you got that from a Fortune Cookie; Fortune Cookie fortunes are much more believable and, well…rational…than that.

    Go ahead: open another one and let’s see what it says. Or try a horoscope: any date, any month, any year, any astrological sign; they’re usually pretty close to reality.

  • And now for the ultimate recipe to save the lives of 1.5 billion lost and brainwashed Muslims:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi————–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gib Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a “creationist”.

    Continued below:

  • “3. To believe in the existence of angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/devils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hittites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No “pretty/ugly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as fairies and “tinker bells”. Modern devils are classified as the demons of the demented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invalidated by the natural gifts of Free Will and Future.

    “5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the “two-minute” recipe is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous recipes are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

  • This has nothing to do with freedom of speech issues. Complete nonsense. The point is that it is the government who decides what the foreign policy of the country should be, not individual Americans or businesses. Everyone has the freedom to say what he wants, and even to make propaganda for a boycott of Israel. But not everyone has the freedom to make his own foreign policy. It is only the government which decides which countries are to be considered and treated as allies and friends. No one else has any authority in this domain.

  • As for the foreign Policy angle, I don’t think that flies in this case, because: 1) THE Lwsuit sspecifically IDENTIFIES THE FREE SPEECH RIGHT AS THEIR GROUNDS, AND 2) the state of Marylanddoesn’t have the authority to create U.S. foreign policy any more than an indiividualCITIZEN. SO…IT’SURE LOOKS LIKE A A FREE SPEEECH ISSUE! And the SCOTUS sS ruled (1982) that boycotts are plitical speech. OF COURSE, IF NOT, THEN THE COURT WILL TOSS IT AND tHE PLAINTIFFS CAN RE-FILE ON SOMD OTHER GROUNDS IF THEY WISH.but the foreign policy defense? Doesn’t look sound.

  • I agree that the State of Maryland has no authority to create foreign policy any more than an individual. From this I deduce the conclusion that everyone can speak as he wants and freely give his opinion, but cannot by actions interfere with standing US foreign policy or obstruct that policy.

    As to the point that the lawsuit identifies free speech as the legal ground, this in my eyes will not stand, simply because it leads to the result that everyone can obstruct US foreign policy. It is the argument used by those who want the freedom to boycott. Whether this argument is legally correct is just what has to be demonstrated in court. In the manner you use it now it is merely a petitio principii.

  • Boycotting Israel movement is both more than speech and less than speech. It is MORE than free speech because its end is not to pursuade, but to destroy Israel. It is LESS than free speech because it is not interested in talking about the facts and underlying issues and problems, but ASSUMES it knows and can JUDGE the realities and difficulties of other countries and peoples.

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