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