Texas town offers hurricane relief, but only with a political promise

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Generally, the requirements outlined in Dickinson's Hurricane Harvey Repair Grant Application and Agreement are predictable: Applicants must agree to follow building codes and get necessary permits, and to use distributed funds exclusively for their agreed-upon project.

The city began accepting applications October 11 for grants to rebuild homes or businesses damaged in the storm that made landfall August 25.

"The First Amendment protects Americans" right to boycott, and the government can not condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression", ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura said in a statement.

However, many states, including Texas, have laws on the books that prohibit the state from contracting with companies that boycott Israel.

As reported by ABC 13, the clause, in section 11 of the grant, caused some concern with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The geopolitical ideology requirement for a Texas suburb rebuilding grant caught the attention of the ACLU, which said it violated the First Amendment.

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"These bills and laws vary in numerous respects", ACLU attorney Brian Hauss wrote recently for Haaretz, "but they share a common goal of scaring people away people from participating in boycotts meant to protest Israeli government policies, including what are known as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign". So far, 21 states across the United States have enacted laws against the movement they say alienates an important "ally". The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously supported the boycotters.

"In short, the Texas law being enforced by the City of Dickinson - as well as other cities throughout Texas, including Galveston, Austin and San Antonio - is leveraging vital government funds to suppress one side of a prominent public debate".

"The city in no way advocates on behalf of the underlying political issue, but we're doing everything in our power to follow state law", he said. The teacher, Esther Koontz, did not sign the contract due to her religious beliefs, and was denied funding.

Surrounding cities hit by Harvey do not ask for a similar stipulation, according to Middle East Eye, and Kallinen said he is unaware of other municipalities requiring a like-minded clause. This law professor from Northwestern University helped out on Texas' anti-BDS bill.

The ACLU is filing suit, arguing this is unconstitutional, and adding that it is "absolutely unconscionable for state and local governments to impose political litmus tests of disaster relief funds".

Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters did not respond to requests for comment.

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