AUSTIN, Texas - Bahia Amawi walked out of federal court Friday with her daughter, legal team and a smile. "This is about principles and values,” said Amawi.
Standing on that gained her admirers. It also lost her a job. But her legal fight according to Amawi is not just about her. "It’s a fight for all Texans really, because this affects everybody, it’s not going to affect only me, but everyday people, people who want to learn on their own, get facts on their own regarding political views and not to be forced to believe in one ideology,” said Amawi.
Amawi used to work for Pflugerville ISD as a Speech Language Pathologist.
She lost her job after refusing to sign a new contract. The paperwork included a section taken from Texas House Bill 89. It’s an affirmation that she; (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.
In court, it was argued the pledge can impact personal choice of what products to buy at a grocery store. "The state of Texas has no business telling Bahia or anybody else which kind of Hummus to buy, which kind of products to buy those are things that are part of our first amendment liberties,” said Gadier Abbas with The Council on American Islamic Relations.
Friday, Amawi and her legal team appeared before Judge Robert Pitman asking him to strike down the law; or at least approve an injunction as the case awaits trail.
In 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 89 into law. Played up the economic ties for why the law was important. But there are those who believe free debate about conflict in Israel is muted by the state law. That concern is what brought Haithem El-Zabri to the courthouse. "Where could it lead to, because it’s a slippery slope, if this law is not challenged it could lead to more restrictions on our freedoms,” said El-Zabri.
HB 89 was filed by Representative Phil King (R) Weatherford. Supporters say it's original intent was to prevent taxpayer money from supporting attacks on Israel by businesses; not individuals. HB 793 was filed this Session to clarify that point.
The amended law would only apply to companies with 10 or more people. For those at federal court that’s not an acceptable compromise. "It’s still a violation regardless if its individuals or companies, people should have the right to make their own decision regarding political expression, political view and ideology,” said Amawi.
The lawsuit includes complaints from two other people against two school districts as well as the university systems for Houston and Texas A&M. Lawyers for the schools asked the judge to be removed because the anti-boycott pledge is not their policy but a state requirement.
Judge Pitman did not indicate when he would make a ruling on the case.