BDS activists
BDS activistsiStock

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against Maryland's ban on contracting with businesses that boycott Israel, arguing it tramples on the First Amendment rights of a software engineer who advocates for Palestinian Arabs, The Associated Press reports.

The lawsuit seeks to block the state from enforcing an executive order that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed in October 2017.

The order bars the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, and requires contractors to certify in writing that they do not boycott Israel.

The CAIR suit claims the order has an unconstitutional chilling effect on First Amendment-protected political advocacy supporting “Palestine”.

CAIR sued Hogan and state Attorney General Brian Frosh on behalf of software engineer Syed Saqib Ali, a former state legislator. Ali's lawsuit says the order bars him from bidding for government software program contracts because he supports boycotts of businesses and organizations that "contribute to the oppression of Palestinians."

"Speech and advocacy related to the Israel-Palestine conflict is core political speech on a matter of public concern entitled to the highest levels of constitutional protection," the suit says, according to AP.

Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the attorney general had not seen the suit and does not comment on pending litigation. A spokeswoman for Hogan's office did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Ali, a resident of Gaithersburg, served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 2007 to 2011. He accused Hogan, a Republican, of making an "end around" the Legislature by signing the executive order after lawmakers repeatedly rejected several anti-BDS bills targeting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

"This is unacceptable, and Larry Hogan should know that our rights will not be stricken by him," Ali said at a news conference in Baltimore, according to AP.

Maryland is one of several US states to have approved anti-BDS legislation in recent years. These include New York, California, New Jersey, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Montana, Kansas and Virginia.

The American Civil Liberties Union has raised objections to many of the laws, saying they inhibit free speech. The group achieved some success in Kansas, where a federal judge in January temporarily blocked the local anti-BDS law.

Last month, a speech pathologist in Austin, Texas, challenged the state’s anti-BDS legislation and filed a lawsuit against the local public school district, after she was let go for refusing to sign an agreement that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel.