Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Protect Free Speech: No on AB 2844

Senator Bill Monning 
701 Ocean Street, 318A
Santa Cruz, California   95060

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Dear Senator Monning:

As California residents, religious leaders and committed social activists, we urge you to oppose AB 2844 (“Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions of Recognized Sovereign Nations or Peoples”), a disturbingly unconstitutional attempt to silence those who oppose Israel’s well-documented human rights abuses against Palestinians.  Though its title has been changed, the bill clearly aims to punish or chill constitutionally protected speech.  It is part of a nation-wide effort to discredit criticism of Israel’s record and shame Palestinians and other activists into inaction.  In its own poignant analysis, the Assembly Judiciary Committee voiced “very serious and perhaps insurmountable" First Amendment concerns.  It is our strong belief that California should avoid the costly and unconstitutional minefield that AB 2844 will lead our state into.  We can’t afford it.  And it’s not right.

Over several decades, our Christian denominations have responded—in faith and conscience—to the call of Palestinian civil society for support and solidarity.  Most recently, this has led many of our churches to support the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement as a nonviolent expression of social action and resistance.  The movement itself includes many Israelis and Palestinians, Jewish-Americans and Palestinian-Americans, students and activists of many kinds.  It is fundamentally based on principles in the United Nations’ own Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948); it is most certainly not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.


Just as importantly, our Supreme Court has long held that boycotts are a protected form of political speech.  As you well know, boycotts have long been used to achieve important social and political change—from the Montgomery bus boycott during the Civil Rights Movement to the grape boycott here in California and the boycott to end apartheid in South Africa.  AB 2844 is a blatant attempt to subvert this core constitutional idea and practice.

Every civil rights legal organization that has weighed in on AB 2844 has warned of the constitutional defects that arise when the state seeks to suppress political boycotts.  You’ll see a full list attached.  It includes: the ACLU, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and Palestine Legal. 

Senator Monning, with respect for your strong commitment to free speech and social change, we ask that you affirm the free speech rights of all Californians by opposing the unconstitutional and short-sighted AB 2844.  We recognize that political pressure comes from many sides on this issue, yet we urge you to take a bold and prophetic stand.  We would welcome a chance to meet with you around our strong opposition to this bill.

Yours truly,

The Rev. David Grishaw-Jones, Senior Pastor, Peace United Church of Christ
The Rev. Herb Schmidt, Lutheran Campus Pastor, Emeritus
The Rev. Darrell Yeaney, Retired Campus Minister, Presbyterian