Text of Faith Leaders’ Letter to Portland City Council

Dear Mayor Wheeler and City Council Members,

We, the undersigned Portland-area faith leaders, are writing to you today to request that you join us in opposing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720 and H.R.1697). If adopted, this pending federal legislation would prohibit “U.S. persons” from complying with a foreign government’s request to boycott a country friendly to the United States. It would criminalize activities by “U.S. persons” that support boycotts called for by “international government organizations” such as the United Nations Human Rights Council. Merely requesting information about such boycotts would become illegal.  Violators of the Act would face prison terms as long as 20 years and fines up to $1 million.

As faith leaders we are concerned about any threat to civil liberties.  This legislation poses a grave threat to Oregonians’ and all Americans’ right to free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union has noted, “This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs…”Even if no one is prosecuted under this law it would have a chilling effect on dissent and would have ominous implications for any kind of direct political action that protests powerful interests.

Boycotts are a form of non-violent collective action that allow ordinary people to make their voices heard.  In this country we have a long tradition of boycotts,beginning with the Boston Tea Party. In the 1960s boycotts organized by African American churches helped overturn Jim Crow laws.  Boycotts sponsored by the United Farm Workers Union helped win concessions from growers.   More recently, boycotts have been used to protest the States of Arizona and North Carolina when these states passed laws targeting immigrants and transgender people.

Both the United States and Oregon constitutions guarantee the right to free speech.  In the landmark 1982 decision, NAACP vs Claiborne Hardware, the United States Supreme Court affirmed that boycotts are a constitutionally protected form of free speech.  We believe that the First Amendment’s right to free speech is core to our democracy and must be defended vigorously.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act specifically targets supporters of the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement. B.D.S. seeks to pressure the State of Israel to end five decades of military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem.  However, while we are concerned about the countless Human Rights violations endured by the Palestinians as a result of the occupations, we are not asking you to endorse B.D.S.  Moreover, the signature of any individual below does not imply an endorsement of B.D.S.  However, we acknowledge the right to boycott Israel if an individual, business, or organization chooses to do so.   If the Israel Anti-Boycott Act becomes law, our neighbors, family members and friends could be subject to ruinous fines, arrest and imprisonment. Faith leaders, including some of us, support B.D.S. as a matter of conscience.    Some of us represent denominations that have officially endorsed B.D.S. Others of us do not support B.D.S.   But we all agree that it is intolerable that anyone should face felony charges and possible imprisonment because they support this campaign.

We are confident that the City Council would not want to see the spectacle of Portlanders prosecuted for exercising their First Amendment rights.  We ask you to condemn the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.  We respectfully ask you to formalize your opposition by passing a resolution condemning it.   Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely, (see list of signatories below)

The Rev. Catherine Alder, United Church of Christ

The Rev. Denise Andersen, United Church of Christ

Curtis Bell, President, Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East

The Rev. Molly Carlson, Conference Minister, Central Pacific Conference United Church of Christ

The Rev. Arik Clark, Presbytery of the Cascades (PCUSA)    (Portland)

The Rev. Deacon Stephen Denny, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church

The Rev. Jean M. Doane, United Church of Christ

The Rev. Elizabeth Durant, Assistant Minister, Portland First Congregational United Church of Christ (Portland)

The Rev. Diane Dulin, United Church of Christ (Central Pacific Conference, Portland)

The Rev. Beth Estock, United Methodist Church

The Rev. Dr. Constance Hammond, Episcopal

The Rev. Dr. Dale Harris, United Methodist Church (ret)

The Rev. Adam Hange, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Hillsboro

The Rev. John Newton Hickox MDiv, UCC, Americans Committed to Justice and Truth

Rabbi Debra Kolodny

The Rev. Christopher Laing, Episcopal Church, Diocese of Oregon (Portland)

Bishop Calvin D. McConnell, United Methodist Church (ret) (Portland)

The Rev. Deacon Marla McGarry, Episcopal Church

Rev. Dr. James Moiso, Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) (Portland)

The Rev. William Mullette-Bauer, United Methodist Church

The Imam Abdulah ef. Polovina, Bosniaks Educational and Cultural Organization

The Rev. Cecil Prescod, Minister of Faith Formation, Ainsworth United Church of Christ

The Rev. Jeanne Randall-Bodman, Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ (Milwaukie)

The Rev. David Randall-Bodman, Senior Minister Bethel Congregational UCC

The Rev. Heather Riggs, Oak Ridge United Methodist Church (Portland)

Pastor Steve Ross, Rose City United Methodist Church (Portland)

The Rev. Edward A. Rouffy, Episcopal Church (Portland)

The Rev. Gayle Sheller, Church of the Brethren (Hillsboro)

The Rev. John Shuck, Southminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA)

Sr. Marcia Sims, SSS (Salem)

The Rev. Steven J. Sprecher (ret) United Methodist Church (Lake Oswego)

The Rev. Rod Stafford, Portland Mennonite Church

The Rev. Anthony C. Thurston, Episcopal Church (Portland)

The Rev. Canon Richard Toll, D.D.., DMin, President Friends of Sabeel North America (Portland)

The Rev. Anne Weld-Martin, United Methodist Church

Rabbi Joseph Wolf, Havurah Emeritus

 

 

Recently added:

 

Imam AbdulahPolovina

Rev. Todd  Bartlett, Exec Director, Camp and Retreat Ministries, Oregon/Idaho Conference UMC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portland-area faith leaders urge City Council to oppose Israel Anti-Boycott Act

Portland-Area Faith Leaders Ask Portland City Council to Protect Free Speech Rights

 

For immediate release:

 

Nearly 40 Portland-area faith leaders have sent an open letter to Mayor Ted Wheeler and members of the Portland City Council requesting that they publicly oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation currently in Congress that would criminalize support for boycotts of Israel initiated by international governmental organizations such as the United Nations Human Rights Council. (See attachment.)

 

“This legislation poses a grave threat to Oregonians’ and all Americans’ right to free speech,” the letter warns, citing opposition by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Signed by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy, the letter notes that the proposed law carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and fines as high as $1 million for any “U.S. persons” found guilty of supporting such boycotts, despite the fact that boycotts are a recognized form of free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

 

“Many Oregon faith leaders are rightly fearful of this bill,” noted the Rev. Diane Dulin of the United Church of Christ.  “Many of our denominations have endorsed specific initiatives in favor of boycott, authorizing divestment and/or encouraging U.S. Congressional sanctions against Israel based on its human rights violations.”

 

Altogether, twelve Christian denominations have adopted resolutions supporting tactics of economic leverage and political sanctions to address these issues.  These church bodies include the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Mennonite Church USA.  The Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace is also on record in support of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) measures.

 

“Our City Council needs to speak out in defense of the freedom to boycott,” said David Newman of the Portland chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. “This is a time-honored method of nonviolent protest used by the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and the LGBTQ community. If this right can be denied to Palestinian rights supporters, it is only a matter of time before this right is in jeopardy for everyone.”

 

Occupation-Free Portland (OFP), a coalition of religious, social justice, human rights, and socialist organizations, formally requested that the City Council speak out against the Israel Anti-Boycott Act at a Council session in January.

 

“To date, many members of the Oregon congressional delegation and the Multnomah County Democratic Party have gone on record opposing this bill as currently written,” noted Rod Such, a spokesman for OFP, citing the public opposition of Senator Jeff Merkley and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio. “Every elected official in Oregon needs to take a stand on this bill and uphold our fundamental democratic rights–rights by the way that the Israeli government continues to withhold from Palestinians.”