The First Amendment protects Americans’ freedom of speech and assembly. Unfortunately, at various times in US history, our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have disregarded these protections, targeting people or groups based on political viewpoint, religious affiliation, or participation in lawful protests. The advent of the internet as the new “town square,” has opened a new front in the battle to protect free speech and assembly, and new technologies make it easier for the government to track our communications and movements both on and offline, inhibiting our willingness to dissent.
Undercover agents have infiltrated law-abiding activist groups, police have beaten and tear-gassed protesters at peaceful protests, and people are considered suspect merely because of their real or perceived Islamic faith. On the internet, police and intelligence agencies monitor social media and speech that should be protected by the First Amendment is considered evidence of “material support for terrorism.”
Dissent is being criminalized by DHS Terror Threat Assessments that name environmentalists, practicing Muslims or people with Ron Paul bumper stickers as potential terrorists, by legislation that conflates activism with terrorism (as in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act), and by over-policing at protests and restrictive “free speech zones.”
Arkansas and Texas aren’t unique in having laws on the books aimed at penalizing supporters of Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) for Palestinian rights. They are among 26 states to have enacted such laws. Arkansas and Texas have also joined another growing subset of states–those who face First Amendment challenges to their anti-BDS laws.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), is following in Cardin’s footsteps and has announced he will try to get the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act language into the budget. Anti-semitism is deplorable. And people should be aware of it. But this bill isn’t about combating anti-semitism, it’s about perverting federal civil rights law to silence supporters of Palestinian civil rights.
Free expression, free assembly, and free association aren’t just fundamental rights. They are the tools that human rights defenders rely on to fight back against the abuses.
For two years now, we’ve fought to stop the unconstitutional Israel Anti-Boycott Act. And thanks to an outpouring of opposition from individuals like you, this First Amendment violating bill has been stalled. But now the bill’s sponsor, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), is working behind the scenes to sneak the Israel Anti-Boycott Act into the must-pass end of the year spending bill.