WHAT FREE SPEECH?
Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Lost Her Job for Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel Oath
Children’s speech pathologist Bahia Amawi is suing Texas AG and the school district that dismissed her after she refused to pledge loyalty to Israel.
A Texas educator says she was fired from her job working with speech-impaired elementary school students because she refused to sign a pledge of loyalty to Israel.
On Monday, The Intercept first reported, she sued the state and the school district that gave her the boot.
“Texas’s ban on contracting with any boycotter of Israel constitutes viewpoint discrimination that chills constitutionally-protected political advocacy in support of Palestine,” reads the lawsuit filed by children’s speech pathologist Bahia Amawi.
Amawi has worked with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, for nine years, speaks three languages, and holds a master’s in her field.
The Pflugerville Independent School District included new language in their contracts this year requiring that employees “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and will refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”
Amawi, an American citizen and mother of four, said she was prepared to renew until she noticed the new clause.
“Absolutely not. I couldn’t in good conscience do that. If I did, I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust, and thus become complicit in their repression, but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully,” she told The Intercept.
Amawi was told there was no alternative: Either Amawi signed the oath or the district, as a public institution, would not pay her.
And so she filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Pflugerville school district, arguing that her dismissal was a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech.
“It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats, and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights,” Amawi said.
To her knowledge, Amawi was the only Arabic-speaking child’s speech specialist in the district, which lies in an area with a growing Arabic population.
“I got my master’s in this field and devoted myself to this work because I always wanted to do service for children,” Amawi told The Intercept. “It’s vital that early-age assessments of possible speech impairments or psychological conditions be administered by those who understand the child’s first language.”
The oath was included in Amawi’s contract as the result of an Israel-specific Texas law enacted in May 2017. The same law blocked some victims of Hurricane Harvey from receiving state disaster relief unless they first signed a pledge to never participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Similar laws are on the books in 25 other states—including Democratic-run states such as California and New York—meaning the vast majority of Americans are currently barred from supporting a boycott of Israel without facing some form of legal retribution.
In 2016, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order directing all state government agencies to terminate any business with companies that support the BDS movement.
Government employees are freely allowed to boycott American states or companies that conflict with their personal beliefs—as many officials did in reaction to anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and Indiana.
Amawi could engage in any political activism against her own country and keep her job. That right seemingly does not apply to her activism on Israel.