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Open letter to Senator Bob Casey

Dear Senator Casey:

We have read with interest your recent message regarding your support for S.1, the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019, noting especially your comments regarding the Combating BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Act portion of the bill. We believe your position on this issue is deeply misguided.

You discount the “First Amendment concerns” of opponents of the Combating BDS Act. But among your 22 Democratic colleagues who voted against S.1, Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Cory Booker all did so precisely because of First Amendment concerns. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship have opposed the act because of its threat to free speech. And in Kansas, Arizona, and Texas federal courts have blocked on First Amendment grounds the implementation of exactly the kind of laws that the Combating BDS Act encourages.

You claim that the “Combatting BDS provisions in this legislation would have no effect on the First Amendment rights of those seeking to participate,” but would only “allow states to divest” from entities that support BDS. Similarly, your colleague Marco Rubio has tweeted that this bill just “allows local & state govt’s to boycott the boycotters.” But as the ACLU has noted, “That, by definition, is state-sponsored punishment for a constitutionally protected activity, and it’s what the First Amendment seeks to protect people from.” The argument you and Senator Rubio advance is based on the alleged free speech“rights”of state and local governments. But you, as a “strong supporter of the First Amendment,” must understand the entire purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the rights of the people, not the government.

Unfortunately, a similar lack of regard for First Amendment concerns is evident in

your co-sponsorship of S.852, the Anti- Semitism Awareness Act of 2019. This bill utilizes a vague and overbroad definition of anti-Semitism to equate constitutionally protected criticism of Israel with anti- Semitism. Its foreseeable effect would be to chill free speech on college campuses. For that reason, it has been opposed by the ACLU, the Alliance for Academic Freedom, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Defending Rights & Dissent, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It has also been opposed by Kenneth Stern, who authored the very definition of anti- Semitism employed in the bill.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement that you would “combat” by both pieces of legislation is a non- violent movement, initiated and led by Palestinians and modeled after the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, to bring about a just peace. It demands simply an end to occupation and the dismantling of the Wall, full equality for all Arab- Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a respect for the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. As Christians moved by the message of peace and justice contained in the teachings of Christ and the Hebrew scriptures, we join Friends of Sabeel North America (https:// http://www.fosna.org/) and communities of faith in support of this movement. We pray you will reconsider your position and join us.

Sincerely,
Fr. Paul Abernathy
Rev. Chad Collins
Peter Gilmore
Nancy Lapp
Jane Larson
John and Eileen Olmsted

Mary Alice Lightle Leila Richards
Dr. Steven Tuell Tom Twiss

Tina Whitehead

 

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