ACLU challenges Kansas law that bans contracting with those who boycott Israel

? Both the state and national branches of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a new Kansas law that prohibits the state from contracting with any individual or firm engaged in a boycott against Israel.

The case was filed on behalf of Esther Koontz, a certified math teacher who contracts with the Kansas State Department of Education, training teachers on how to implement a certain kind of math curriculum.

According to an ACLU news release, Koontz also belongs to the Mennonite Church USA. In accordance with calls from her church and congregation, the ACLU said, Koontz does not buy consumer products made by Israeli companies or international companies that operate in Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

“The First Amendment prohibits the government from using its financial leverage to impose an ideological litmus test,” ACLU attorney Brian Hauss said in the news release. “This law is an unconstitutional attempt by the government to silence one side of a public debate by coercing people not to express their beliefs, including through participation in a political boycott.”

The bill was pushed by an organization called the Israel Project which has advocated for similar bills in other states and at the federal level. In July, the ACLU wrote letters to U.S. senators urging them to oppose the federal legislation.

The Kansas bill passed the state Senate June 7 by a vote of 36-3. Later the same day it passed the House, 99-13.

Among the Douglas County delegation, Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, voted for the bill while Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, voted against it. In the House, Democratic Reps. Barbara Ballard and John Wilson and Republican Rep. Tom Sloan voted in favor of the bill while Rep. Boog Highberger voted no.