ATLANTA — A documentary filmmaker who refused to sign Georgia’s required oath involving Israel is suing the state, saying the law is in violation of free speech rights guaranteed by the US Constitution.
A Georgia law passed in 2016 requires some people to sign an oath pledging not to boycott Israel in order to do business with the state.
In her federal lawsuit, Abby Martin says she refused to sign the oath, and her scheduled appearance this month at a Georgia Southern University media conference was then cancelled.
“I will not forfeit my constitutional rights by signing this pledge,” Martin said at a Monday news conference to announce the lawsuit.
Spokespeople within Georgia’s university system referred questions to Georgia Southern spokesman John Lester. He said Georgia Southern has not yet seen the lawsuit.
“Ms. Martin’s concerns appear to be related to requirements of a state law enacted in 2016,” Lester said in a statement.
The law “requires that anyone who wants to contract with the state of Georgia for services worth more than $1,000 sign an oath pledging that they will not boycott the Israeli government,” said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Georgia.
“That oath applies whether you are a substitute teacher who wants to work for our public school system, whether you are a construction worker who wants to build something for our state, or whether you are a journalist who wants to speak at a state university,” Mitchell said.
“Imagine if during the Civil Right movement, the state of Alabama passed a law saying if you want to work for our state, you can not participate in the Montgomery bus boycott,” he added.
Martin was to be paid a $1,000 honorarium plus expenses to be the keynote speaker for the 2020 International Critical Media Literacy Conference. So university officials asked her to sign a “Memorandum of Agreement” which stated: “You certify that you are not currently engaged in, and agree for the duration of this agreement not to engage in, a boycott of Israel.”
Martin has worked as a reporter for Russian network RT America. Last year, she released a documentary: “The Empire Files: Gaza Fights for Freedom.”
After Martin refused to sign, the university prevented her from speaking and the entire conference was cancelled, the lawsuit states.
The law is similar to others passed in recent years in more than 20 states, including Texas, Arizona, Arkansas and Maryland, Mitchell said. His organization has been involved in fighting such laws nationwide, including Georgia’s.