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Presbyterians urged to contact their senators on initiatives that limit free speech, advocacy for Palestinian rights

The PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness urges opposition to two Senate bills

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Office of Public Witness)

LOUISVILLE — As college students and others protest the war in Gaza and urge divestment from companies that profit from violations of the rights of Palestinians — and call for an end to U.S. military support for those human rights violations — the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness is asking Presbyterians to oppose a pair of bills already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives that OPW says will limit free speech and advocacy rights in this country.

In an Action Alert issued this week, OPW urged Presbyterians to contact their U.S. senators expressing opposition to S 4136 and S. 4127.

S 4136 is the Senate version of HR 6408, which OPW says would enable a new category of legal targeting of non-governmental organizations, particularly those who engage with Palestinians or on Palestinian issues. It would also enable attacks on nonprofits working in any sector on any issue. The bill gives the U.S. Department of Treasury the right to remove the tax-exempt status of organizations based solely on an accusation of wrong-doing. If it were to become law, OPW says any presidential administration could use it as a tool to stifle free speech, target political opponents and punish disfavored groups or those seen as a political threat.

S 4127, which was passed in the House earlier this month as HR 6090, would in effect categorize criticism of Israeli policies as antisemitism. A group of nearly 700 Jewish academics sent a letter to President Biden and Senate leaders urging them to oppose the legislation and “any effort to codify into federal law a definition of antisemitism that conflates antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel.” The American Civil Liberties Union says that “addressing rising antisemitism is critically important, but sacrificing Americans’ free speech rights is not the way to solve that problem.” According to the ACLU, the bill could “pressure colleges and universities to restrict student and faculty speech critical of the Israeli government and its military operations out of fear of the college losing federal funding.”

Information on contacting senators urging opposition to S 4136 and S 4127 is here.

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