ACLU Slams Houston Suburb for Withholding Hurricane Relief to Anyone Boycotting Israel

The city of Dickinson requires applicants for grants to repair homes or businesses damaged by Hurricane Harvey to refrain from boycotting Israel: 'An egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths'

Ngoc Nguyen pushes a box of supplies damaged in Tropical Storm Harvey from the Willis Tailor and Alterations store she runs in Dickinson, Texas, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017
Stuart Villanueva/AP

The American Civil Liberties Union slammed a Houston suburb's decision to  block grants to repair homes or businesses damaged in Hurricane Harvey if the applicant supports boycotting Israel as a violation of free speech rights.

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“The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott, and the government cannot 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.

“Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of ‘subversive’ activity,” Segura added.

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The city of Dickinson’s application form for storm damage repair funding includes a clause stating that “By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”

No other clauses about political affiliations or beliefs are included in the form.

The state of Texas passed a law in May banning state entities from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel. The law, one of 21 passed in states around the country in the past few years, has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union as unconstitutional.

Local TV news station KTRK reported that the damage Dickinson received “may be the worst of Harvey,” with more than 50 inches of rain in 72 hours. The widely-distributed photo of residents of a nursing home waiting to be rescued as floodwater reached their waists was taken in Dickinson.

Calls to the offices of the mayor and the city secretary were not returned.