CAIR Welcomes Defeat of Md. Anti-Free Speech Bills

CAIR-logoMuslim civil rights group condemns anti-boycott language in state budget

(COLUMBIA, MD, 4/9/14) -- The Maryland outreach office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations today welcomed news that anti-free speech legislation introduced in the Maryland General Assembly's 2014 session failed to pass.

H.B. 998 and S.B. 647 contained language that would have restricted student groups at Maryland's public colleges and universities from supporting boycotts of foreign countries like Israel by limiting funds to these institutions.

Those bills were in response to the American Studies Association's endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement - a non-violent form of protest against Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and human rights abuses against Palestinians.

Last month, representatives of CAIR's Maryland Office, Jewish Voice for Peace, ACLU-MD, Center for Constitutional Rights, and many other diverse organizations testified at committee hearings in opposition of these bills.

SEE: CAIR, Coalition to Testify at MD Hearings on Anti-Free Speech Bills

Arguments cited in testimony included that it restricted academic freedom, chilled free speech and prohibited and dissuaded non-violent protest against the policies of foreign governments, namely Israel. The push to pass this legislation in Maryland was part of a larger nationwide effort to condemn academic boycotts of Israel.

Although the bills were defeated, the bill sponsors did succeed in adding anti-boycott language into the state budget which reaffirms Maryland's Declaration of Cooperation with the state of Israel. However, the clause that was approved was significantly tamer than the original language in legislation introduced by Delegate Kramer that likened anti-BDS support to anti-Semitism.

SEE: Report of the Conference Committee on Senate Bill 170

"Methods of non-violent protest like boycotts have been historically successfully in changing controversial, unethical governmental policies," said the director of CAIR's Maryland outreach office,  Zainab Chaudry. "It's reassuring that bills punishing free speech and peaceful protest on Maryland's college campuses were dropped. Still, it's disappointing that language condemning the same form of protest used to end Apartheid in South Africa and desegregate America's own public spaces was inserted in our state's budget bill as a last ditch effort by bill sponsors to prioritize personal interests."

"While we are grateful that the most egregious libels were removed from the budget bill amendment, we believe that boycott is a time-honored tactic that effectively and non-violently brings about social change," said Asim Ali, an ASA member and University of Maryland professor. "That legislators would condemn the use of the same tactic that brought an end to Jim Crow, apartheid in South Africa, and supported farm workers' rights is deeply saddening."

The anti-boycott bill in New York is still on the table. A similar bill in Illinois is still in limbo, although an anti-boycott resolution has been defeated. An anti-boycott resolution passed in the Pennsylvania state legislature last month.

CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

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CONTACT: CAIR Maryland Office President Zainab Chaudry, [email protected], (410) 971-6062; CAIR Maryland Office Government Affairs Director Fariha Quasem, [email protected], (301) 660-7640; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, [email protected]