Editor’s Note: EPF member Linda Gaither reflects on boycott actions and free speech and how it’s all interpreted and acted on when she compares the boycott movement affecting North Carolina around HB2 and the New York legislature’s attempt to stifle action around Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
It is interesting to watch the nation-wide response to North Carolina’s divisive new LGBT law, HB2. We’ve seen multi-billion-dollar companies like Paypal and Google Ventures withdrawing investments, while economic developers and even some state legislatures attempt to lure long-established companies away from the Tar Heel State. For example, a bipartisan group of legislators from Connecticut have invited Bank of America to move to a state that shares the bank’s social values, supporting its LGBT workforce. Deutsche Bank has withdrawn from a facility upgrade in N.C. and 170 small businesses have signed a petition to repeal HB2. Vacationers are canceling travel plans to N.C., as well.
There is a blossoming boycott of cultural and sporting events in the state. Major artists and performing groups – Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Ani DiFranco, Ringo Starr, Cirque du Soleil – have canceled appearances. A coalition of U.S. Senators is pressuring the NBA to move its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte. Most important to Episcopalians, the bishops of the Diocese of North Carolina have published a letter of support to members of the LGBT community and their supporters on this issue.
We are witnessing a back-lash that is quintessentially American. When state houses, the federal government or any other entity is deaf to the appeal of constituents, it is a time-honored tactic, reaching back to the colonial era, to use nonviolent economic pressure to leverage change. It is free speech in action to boycott a law that excludes LGBT people from state anti-discrimination protections, blocks local governments from expanding LGBT protections and bars all workplace discrimination lawsuits. Not to mention dictating by law what restroom individuals may choose. This is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, as American as apple pie.
It is therefore ironic that our own New York State House in Albany is considering curtaining the very freedom of speech that is effectively pressuring the North Carolina State House on behalf of basic human rights. Bill A8220A, under consideration by the Government Operations Committee, prohibits activity intended to limit “commercial relations” with the State of Israel or territories controlled by Israel. Groups that engage in such activity – defined as a boycott – would be barred from bidding on contracts with New York State, and would be subject to other financial and economic sanctions. The Bill directs the state finance commissioner to publish a black list of organizations that support such boycotts.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has this to say about A8220A: “The proposed legislation is outside the bounds of federal and state law; its proscriptions reach far beyond what is constitutionally permissible. The Supreme Court has clearly established that First Amendment protections apply to politically-motivated economic boycotts aimed at influencing public policy and advancing social change. The Court has also ruled that the Constitution prohibits government from conditioning eligibility for public contracts upon the political affiliation of those bidding for a contract”.
The freedom to boycott on behalf of human dignity and social change is guaranteed by the First Amendment. A founding symbol of this freedom is the Boston Tea Party: a boycott on behalf of the Patriot’s slogan, “no taxation without representation.” Over $3 billion in our U.S. tax dollars are going to the State of Israel each year in military aid alone. As tax-payers, we must defend our freedom to protest the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the State of Israel, enabled by our tax dollars. No state house anywhere, in Raleigh or Albany or Tel Aviv, should be able to silence our individual or corporate voice on behalf of universal human rights.