THERE SHE GOES AGAIN: More nonsense from Leslie Rutledge.

A word of encouragement arrives from PEN America after the Arkansas Times suffered a setback in federal court this week on the ACLU-backed lawsuit objecting to a state law requiring us to cede editorial control to the state of Arkansas on a political issue to be able to receive state agency advertising.

Their release:

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An Arkansas federal judge’s decision to throw out a lawsuit challenging the state’s anti-boycott legislation is a disappointing ruling for free expression and the First Amendment, PEN America said in a statement today.

The lawsuit, which was brought by the ACLU on behalf of the Arkansas Times, arose after the newspaper was told the University of Arkansas could no longer advertise with them without the newspaper first agreeing to the legally mandated pledge not to boycott Israel. Under current Arkansas law passed in 2017, state institutions are prohibited from investing in or contracting with companies that boycott Israel, and government contractors must sign a pledge never to boycott the foreign nation, or reduce their fees by 20%. In his ruling, the judge upheld the constitutionality of the anti-boycott bill, saying that the Times’ First Amendment rights do not extend to decisions “to refuse to deal, or to refrain from purchasing certain goods” and that a “company’s decision to discriminate against Israel, Israeli entities, or entities that do business with or in Israel, is an unsound business practice, making the company an unduly risky contracting partner or vehicle for investment.” At least 26 states around the country have similar anti-boycott legislation that either prohibit political or economic protest of Israel and/or impose financial costs on those who exercise that constitutional right.

“Irrespective of the substance of one’s protest, state action like the law in Arkansas forbidding expression on the basis of one’s political views is deeply troubling,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “The ruling today from the Arkansas district court failed to consider other important federal court rulings around the country that have protected this kind of speech as a core First Amendment right. Constitutional protections cannot be applied selectively based on one’s viewpoint, and this decision sets an alarming precedent for Americans’ right to freely exercise their political beliefs in ways clearly protected by the First Amendment.”

Thanks PEN. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who defended the state statute, commented on Twitter afterward in her usual poorly informed fashion. She called the lawsuit “meritless.” In fact, two separate federal judges have blocked similar laws and federal Judge Brian Miller, who ruled against us, indicated he didn’t much like the law. She also said it “prohibited” discrimination against Israel. It does no such thing. It merely muzzles people (or makes them take a price cut if they choose to freely boycott Israel). It commands people who want state business to speak in a manner the state prescribes. The First Amendment protects your right to NOT speak as well as protecting speech itself. The Times has not editorialized about Israel boycotts. We have editorialized against state interference with free speech.

What’s next? A state law that punishes businesses that won’t sign a pledge not to boycott rice or the Razorbacks? Oh, hell. Now I”ve given the legislature an idea for more time-wasting demagoguery, to join Capitol statuary, microchips, Halloween and gun idolatry in their regulation (or de-regulation) fervor.

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