The New York Civil Liberties Union warned Nassau County in a letter today that its threats of legal action based on musician Roger Waters’ political views violate free speech.
The NYCLU addressed its letter to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey in response to Foskey’s threat to take “appropriate legal action” against the operator of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Nassau Events Center. Waters is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and last year Nassau County passed an unconstitutional law prohibiting contracts with businesses engaged in BDS activities.
“Nassau County cannot be in the business of telling people what to say or think,” said NYCLU Nassau County Chapter Director Susan Gottehrer. “The BDS movement is a form of protected political speech. While we take no position on the movement itself, we recognize the right of those who do support it to express their ideas without fear of suppression from the government.”
BDS organizers describe their movement as using boycott, divestment and sanction tactics “to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.” The NYCLU letter explains that Nassau County’s law is unconstitutional because it targets a political boycott, which the Supreme Court has found is protected speech. Waters is slated to perform two shows at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in September.
“The Nassau County ordinance forces a choice between expressing one’s political beliefs and doing business with the county,” said NYCLU Policy Counsel Zachary Ahmad. “The First Amendment doesn’t allow that kind of penalty on political speech.”
The NYCLU letter urges Nassau County to withdraw its threats against the Nassau Events Center, to stop enforcing the ordinance and to take steps to repeal the law. The letter also asks for copies of correspondence between the county and the Nassau Events Center related to this issue, a copy of any contract and a list of any other businesses against which the county has enforced or threatened to enforce the law.