ACLU says Dickinson hurricane fix grant application violates Constitution

Houston Texas. Over a week after Hurricane Harvey hit Southern Texas residents are beginning the long process of recovering from the stor

To get Harvey relief funds, residents of Dickinson must vow not to boycott Israel

As a part of the application process, Dickinson, Texas residents seeking disaster relief funds are being forced to vow they won't boycott Israel in a move the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called "an egregious violation of the First Amendment".

"Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas", Gov. Greg Abbott said at the bill's May signing.

The application contains a provision that requires applicants to agree to verification that they will not Boycott Israel, a country "guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people", according to a now redacted report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

The boycott language was included to comply with a new state law prohibiting Texas agencies from contracting with companies boycotting Israel, said David Olson, the city attorney in Dickinson, located about 30 miles southeast of Houston.

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"The First Amendment protects Americans" right to boycott, and the government can not condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression", said ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura.

The law that Olsen mentions is known as the Anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions law (Anti-BDS). "Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally", he added. In defending similar laws, he said there is a distinction between expressive speech vs. the regulation of commercial conduct. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that such political boycotts were a form of free expression and association and thus protected by the First Amendment.

Dickinson is waiting to hear back from state officials on whether the law applies to the city's grant program and if it doesn't, "then there's no reason for us to have it in the agreement", Olson said.

If you're a resident of a small Texas city and in need of hurricane recovery funds, you'll have to certify that you're not boycotting Israel. Two university professors estimated that the total damage in the areas affected may reach up to $198bn.

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