Federal judge rules Texas law against boycotts of Israel violates Houston entrepreneur’s First Amendment rights

A federal judge has found that a Texas law that requires most government contractors to swear they won’t boycott Israel violated a Houston company’s First Amendment rights, though the court didn’t not invalidate the law statewide.

Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas said the law bars A&R Engineering & Testing, Inc. from exercising its First Amendment rights to boycott the actions of the Israeli government while pursuing a city contract in Houston.

Hanen issued a temporary injunction on Friday telling the city it cannot include the language — required by state law — in an employment contract that seeks to force the company to comply with the ban on boycott. Hanen’s decision was narrow in scope and did not block the law generally, as the plaintiffs had requested.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nonprofit Muslim advocacy and civil rights group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of A&R and its owner, Rasmy Hassouna, applauded the decision.

“Obviously, this law was intended to target a particular point of view and to discriminate against that point of view,” said Gadeir Abbas, the council’s senior litigation lawyer.

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office is appealing the injunction to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit related to a contract renewal the city gave A&R in October to continue providing engineering services. In the contract, the city included language asking A&R to ensure that the company would not boycott Israel.

The language was required by a state law passed by the Texas legislature in 2017, which prohibits companies that boycott Israel from receiving government money. More than 20 other states have adopted versions of the law.

The 2021 document was the first renewal of A&R’s contract since the law took effect, which meant it was the first time language about boycotting Israel was included.

Hassouna, who is of Palestinian descent and has worked with the city for 17 years, refused to sign Houston’s contract and called for the provision to be removed. The city said it couldn’t comply with state law without including the language, and Hassouna sued.

City attorneys said they wanted to follow the law and would hire A&R if allowed.

“Otherwise Houston has no dog in the fight,” Hanen wrote.

CAIR has challenged the law in the past. He filed a lawsuit on behalf of a contractor in the Pflugerville Independent School District in 2018. A judge in that case ruled in favor of the contractor, and the legislature changed the law to apply only to construction companies. ten or more employees, Abbas said.

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