Kansas Teacher Barred from Employment for Supporting BDS
by Stephen Lendman (stephenlendman.org – Home – Stephen Lendman)
Barring longtime math teacher Esther Koontz from renewing her teaching contract, solely for her political beliefs, is a flagrant First Amendment violation.
She righteously supports BDS activism, wanting Israel held accountable for its high crimes against Palestinians.
Kansas House Bill 2409 prohibits state contracts with individuals critical of Israel’s agenda. In NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled for the plaintiff against state authorities, cracking down on boycotts of white businesses, saying authority over economic relations doesn’t limit or deny political speech.
Koontz is a member of the Mennonite Church USA. In July, it voted to divest from US companies, profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation.
She supports Palestinian rights. Her employment papers require a declaration in writing of no support for BDS. She declined and was denied the right to train other teachers.
The Kansas law is unconstitutional. The ACLU supports Koontz. Last week on its web site, she headlined “Kansas Won’t Let Me Train Math Teachers Because I Boycott Israel,” saying:
“Because of my political views, the state of Kansas has decided that I can’t help it train other math teachers.”
“I was chosen last spring to participate in a program that trains public school math teachers all over Kansas. After completing a two-day preparation course in May, I was ready to take on the role.”
As a Mennonite Church USA member concerned about human rights, notably longstanding abusive Israeli practices against Palestinians, she won’t buy products made by Israeli companies or from businesses profiting from its ruthlessness.
She’s inspired by how activism helped end South African apartheid, wanting to help the Palestinian liberation struggle.
Last summer, a Kansas State Department of Education email said to participate in its math training program, she’s required “to sign a certification stating that I don’t boycott Israel,” she said.
She was “stunned,” refusing to sign “as a matter of conscience.” Asking if she could still participate in the state’s training program, she was told she could not.
She’s challenging the decision with ACLU help, a federal lawsuit filed on her behalf. A public school math teacher for nine years, she’s trained to teach others how to teach her discipline.
“The lawsuit argues that the Kansas law violates the First Amendment for several reasons,” said the ACLU:
“(I)t compels speech regarding protected political beliefs, associations, and expression; restricts the political expression and association of government contractors; and discriminates against protected expression based on its content and viewpoint.”
The suit calls for striking down the Kansas law and barring its Department of Education from requiring contractor/teachers like Koontz from certifying no support for BDS activism.
The First Amendment protects the right to boycott, upheld by Supreme Court rulings. American Revolution supporters boycotted British goods.
Colonists refused to obey the UK Stamp Act. They boycotted British goods in protest. Shop owners signed non-importation agreements. They rejected taxation without representation.
America’s first Supreme Court chief justice John Jay boycotted New York merchants engaged in the slave trade.
The mid-1950s Montgomery bus boycott was a major turning point in the struggle for civil rights. Nationwide anti-war protests in the 1960s and early 70s helped end the Vietnam war.
Boycotts and protests are an American tradition – at risk by extremist governance wanting them curtailed or abolished.
The First Amendment protects these rights. Denying them puts all others at risk.
No federal, state or local authority can legally curtail or prevent free expression in all its forms. Nor is requiring individuals indicate their political beliefs a prerequisite for employment.
If justice is to be served, Koontz will prevail in court, including the Supreme Court if her case goes that far, the unconstitutional Kansas law annulled.
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