MAKING THEM PAY: Those who favor boycotts with Israel over its treatment of Palestinians must pay by being barred from doing business with states like Arkansas. The ACLU says those laws are unconstitutional. ACLU

The Arkansas Times’ years-long legal challenge to a law forcing state contractors to pledge to not boycott Israel has come to an end.

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal to the Eighth Circuit’s June 2022 ruling that an Arkansas law limiting state business with those who refuse to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel is not a violation of the First Amendment. That decision by the full court reversed a decision by a three-judge panel that the law was indeed unconstitutional.

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The Arkansas Times challenged the 2017 state law with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, contending it was unconstitutional compelled speech.

Arkansas Times Publisher Alan Leveritt had this to say Tuesday:

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“We are obviously disappointed at the news today from the US Supreme Court. Permitting state governments to withhold state contracts from citizens who voice opinions contrary to those held by a majority of their state legislators is abhorrent and a violation of the Bill of Rights. In our case the Arkansas state legislature required our magazine to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel if we wanted to receive state advertising. We refused. We are not boycotting Israel but neither do we sign political pledges in return for advertising. Especially state advertising.
During this period we have made many changes to our business model, relying more on paid online subscriptions and donations from our readers and less on advertising. Our newsroom is now 100% funded by readers and donors. Thanks to support from our readers, we will not be signing any pledges dictated by our legislature. The Supreme Court can ignore our First Amendment rights but we will continue to vigorously exercise them.”

So-called anti-BDS laws like this one in Arkansas have been challenged and defeated in other states. Their name comes from the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to pressure Israel to meet what it describes as Israel’s obligations under international law, namely to cease human rights violations against Arab-Palestinians.

The Arkansas Times is a local rag, with plenty of battles to fight here on the home front. We have zero interest in getting tangled up in the Gaza Strip. But free speech is something we’ll continue to fight for. Being forced to declare fealty to one side or another in any geopolitical maelstrom is a violation of the First Amendment, and we’re not going to go along, even if it costs us plenty in advertising dollars with the state.

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Anyone interested in this 1A battle is invited to a Thursday evening screening of “Boycott.” The documentary explores Leveritt’s fight, alongside an attorney in Arizona and a speech therapist in Texas, to save people from having to choose between their livelihoods and their political beliefs. Cocktails start flowing at 5 p.m., the film starts at 6, and tickets are $25. Proceeds benefit the ACLU of Arkansas.

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