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Politics & Government

Judge blocks Kansas law barring boycotts of Israel after Wichita teacher sued

TOPEKA

A federal judge has blocked Kansas from enforcing a state law that requires state contractors to promise they will not boycott Israel.

Judge Daniel Crabtree issued the order on Tuesday in an ongoing challenge to the anti-boycott law brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed the requirement into law last year, sounded a defiant note.

"I think they will lose on appeal," Brownback said of the ACLU. "I think this judge — these have been, these types of laws have been passed for years at the federal level. Whether it's on Iran or really a number, South Africa and apartheid. You've had laws like this for years and they've been upheld."

Esther Koontz, a curriculum coach at Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet School in Wichita, is suing to block the law. The ACLU is representing her.

Koontz refused to sign a certification that she is not participating in a boycott of Israel.

Koontz is qualified to train teachers statewide as a contractor with the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program. But the state won’t give her new assignments under the law.

“Today’s ruling marks a notable victory for the First Amendment,” Micah Kubic, director of the ACLU of Kansas, said in a statement. “The government has no right telling people what they can and can’t support, and this preliminary injunction will protect other Kansans from enduring the First Amendment violation that Ms. Koontz has endured.”

Crabtree’s order blocks enforcement of the law while the lawsuit continues. In a written order, Crabtree found "that the continuing harm to plaintiff’s First Amendment rights — and those of persons similarly situated — outweighs defendant’s speculative suggestion that an injunction will harm" the state of Kansas or its merchants.

"Plaintiff’s harm stems not from her decision to refuse to sign the certification, but rather from the plainly unconstitutional choice the Kansas Law forces plaintiff to make: She either can contract with the state or she can support a boycott of Israel. Her harm is ongoing because the Kansas Law is currently chilling plaintiff’s and other putative state contractors’ speech rights," Crabtree said.

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