Faith groups oppose denial of civil rights to critics of Israel

Faith groups oppose denial of civil rights to critics of Israel
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Faith groups oppose denial of civil rights to critics of Israel

Faith Groups Publish Statement Defending First Amendment Right to Boycott

Friends of Sabeel North America, FOSNA, announces a full-page statement published today in The Kansas City Star on behalf of the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, and dozens of other faith organizations of various denominations. The statement defends the First Amendment right of Americans to use boycotts and other economic acts of conscience to protest Israel’s abuses of Palestinian human rights and violations of international law. The statement comes a day after 20 Christian leaders representing 17 faith-based organizations sent a letter opposing the so-called Israel Anti-Boycott Act to all members of Congress

Over the past several years, a series of laws intended to suppress boycotts related to Israeli human rights abuses have been passed in Congress and in some two dozen states across the country. Civil liberties groups like the ACLU have warned that these laws are unconstitutional and pose a serious threat to the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and the right of all Americans to boycott. The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Kansas in the first major legal challenge to these laws after a member of the Mennonite Church was prevented from working as a teacher on a state contract because she supports boycotts in support of Palestinian rights.

Protests in Chicago Sunday Oct. 18, 2015 against Israel’s occupation. Photo courtesy of Dr. Atiyeh Salem

The statement in The Kansas City Star reads in part:

“We are alarmed by legislation recently passed in a number of states penalizing  participation in the nonviolent, grassroots Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, and by similar legislation that is proposed in the U.S. Congress… As faith leaders, we have long used the nonviolent instruments of boycott and divestment in our work for justice and peace.”

In recent years, a growing number of Americans, including mainline Christian denominations like the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the Mennonite Church USA, have adopted boycotts and other economic tools in support of Palestinians struggling peacefully for their freedom from Israel’s oppressive, 50-year-old military occupation regime. As the statement notes, Americans have a long and honorable tradition of using boycotts in support of social justice and human rights causes, from the Civil Rights movement, to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, to attempts to protect the rights of immigrants, people of color, and others whose rights are threatened today. There should be no free speech exception for Americans who support Palestinian rights and freedom.

With this statement of support, justice and peace advocates from major faith groups across the United States have come together in a historic show of unity to stand for the right to boycott as a form of Constitutionally recognized free speech. Said Tarek Abuata, Executive Director of FOSNA, “We unequivocally oppose any attempts by our state or federal governments to deny us the opportunity to express our faith-inspired convictions that Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of longstanding official U.S. policy and international law, its destruction of Palestinian homes, severe restrictions on Palestinian movement, and other human rights abuses are morally wrong and a major impediment to peace.”

We will continue to stand in support of those being targeted with unjust laws for acting according to their conscience, and we will continue standing in support of Palestinians struggling for freedom, justice, and equality.

Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) is a community of faith in action, called to build for our children a future in which violence is not an everyday concept. The Sabeel movement, of which FOSNA is a part, was initiated by Palestinian Christians and promotes theological, moral, and legal principles for peace in the Holy Land as outlined in the Kairos Palestine document. FOSNA challenges distortions of the Bible and theologies that lead to violence and racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and condemns all acts of violence, whether committed by states, individuals, or groups.

Here’s a copy of the statement:

We are members of faith communities in the United States whose congregations or denominations have adopted resolutions to boycott products made in Israeli settlements—built on occupied Palestinian lands in violation of international law and longstanding official U.S. policy—or have implemented a screen to divest from companies that profit from the 50-year-old Israeli military occupation of Palestine. These resolutions affirm our commitment to a just peace for all Palestinians and Israelis.

We are alarmed by legislation recently passed in a number of states penalizing  participation in the nonviolent, grassroots Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights and by similar legislation that is proposed in the U.S. Congress. In August, the Kansas State Department of Education used the state’s anti-BDS legislation to bar a member of the Mennonite church, a math teacher and curriculum coach in Wichita, Kansas, from participating in a program to train other math teachers.

This is a dangerous precedent that threatens to extend repression of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule by muzzling the right of Americans to free speech.

Accordingly, the ACLU has filed suit against the Kansas Commissioner of Education in defense of this school teacher and her right to boycott.

Anti-BDS laws that have already been enacted in several states and similar legislation that is proposed in Congress effectively penalize actions taken by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Methodist Church, the Mennonite Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and other denominations; and tens of thousands of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and secular Americans who support boycotts and divestment aimed at ending Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. 

As faith leaders, we have long used the nonviolent instruments of boycott and divestment in our work for justice and peace. These economic measures have proven to be powerful tools for social change, from strengthening labor rights for farm workers to ending apartheid in South Africa. As has been warned by the ACLU and other civil liberties groups, anti-BDS legislation is an extremely grave attack on free speech that threatens the use of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions for other peace and human justice causes.

WE CALL ON ALL AMERICANS to join us and the ACLU in defending our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Urge state legislators and members of Congress to reject anti-BDS legislation as an infringement on the rights of American citizens.

You can send the message here


Alliance of Baptists

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)

The United Church of Christ


American Friends Service Committee

Israel/Palestine Mission Network, Prebyterian Church (USA)

Mennonite Palestine Israel Network

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Quaker Palestine Israel Network

Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East

United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network

United Methodists for Kairos Response


American Muslims for Palestine

Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy 

Christians Witnessing for Palestine

Christian- Jewish Allies for a Just Peace in Israel- Palestine

Conference of Major Superiors of Men (Catholic)

Delaware Episcopalians for Middle East Peace

Disciples Palestine Israel Network

Episcopal Peace Fellowship

Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network

Freedom2Boycott, Maryland

Friends of Sabeel – Colorado

Friends of Sabeel North America

Indiana Center for Middle East Peace

Interfaith Alliance for Peace in the Holy Land, Tampa Bay, FL

Jewish Voice for Peace

Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council

Kairos USA

Middle East Task Force of the Chicago Presbytery 

NorCal Friends of Sabeel

Palestine- Israel Action Group, Ann Arbor Quakers

Palestian American Christian Advocacy 

Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace

UCC Central Atlantic Conference Palestine Israel Network

United Methodists’ Holy Land Task Force, California-Pacific Conf. 

US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace

Western District Task Force on Israel- Palestine, Mennonite Church USA

This message was paid for by Friends of Sabeel-North America, Lynn M. Martin, Treasurer. Please help spread this message by making a donation or by signing for your organization here

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