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.”