Law requires state contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel or forgo 20% of payment

LITTLE ROCK – Calling the law an unconstitutional tax on free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas today filed suit challenging a state law that requires government contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel or reduce their fees by 20 percent. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Arkansas Times LP, asserts that the law (Act 710), which took effect in August 2017, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution by suppressing one side of a public debate and imposing a tax on constitutionally-protected free speech.

“This law imposes an unconstitutional tax on free speech,” said Rita Sklar, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “The state has no business telling Arkansans what causes they can or can’t support – or penalizing them for holding a particular point of view. Our client is simply asking the courts to uphold a fundamental First Amendment principle that the government cannot force people to subscribe to a specific political viewpoint.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of Arkansas Times LP, which for many years has contracted with state actors to run advertisements in its various publications for Pulaski Technical College (UAPTC).

This year, on the basis of Act 710, UAPTC demanded that the CEO, Alan Leveritt, sign a certification agreeing that Arkansas Times LP will not engage in a boycott of Israel as a condition of the contract. Leveritt refused to sign any such certification and accordingly UAPTC has refused to enter into further advertisement contracts with Arkansas Times LP.

“Campuses in the University of Arkansas system have been advertising with us for years, so we were shocked and more than a little troubled when they sent over what looked like a loyalty oath as a condition of payment,” said Leveritt. “As journalists, we are fervent believers that the First Amendment’s speech protections are essential to a free and just society – and would never sign a contract that’s conditioned on the unconstitutional suppression of free speech. Regardless of what people may think about this particular boycott, it is not the government’s place to decide what causes Arkansans can or cannot support.”

Asserting that Act 710 restricts the ability of Arkansas Times LP to exercise its First Amendment right to engage in political expression and imposes an ideological litmus test on government contractors’ protected political beliefs, the lawsuit asks the court to declare the law unconstitutional and enjoin the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees from enforcing it.

Since 2017, the ACLU has successfully blocked anti-boycott state laws in Kansas and Arizona. In January 2018, a federal district court preliminarily enjoined an anti-boycott state law in Kansas, holding that the First Amendment protects citizens’ right to “band together” and “express collectively their dissatisfaction with the injustice and violence they perceive, as experienced both by Palestinians and Israeli citizens.” In September, a district court enjoined a similar anti-boycott law in Arizona.