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At University of Arkansas, a State Law Stifles Pro-Palestinian Speakers

A spokeswoman for the Honors College said Dr. Coon was unavailable for an interview but pointed to a statement that said increased interest in the panel had led to a need to accommodate “a larger audience and panel” in the spring.

At the university, the issue has taken a toll on some students, who say they don’t dare stage the types of pro-Palestinian protests seen on other campuses. Private group chats among Muslim and pro-Palestinian students are on fire, but they are reluctant to speak publicly, said one student, an officer of the Muslim Student Association who requested that his name not be used for fear of public backlash.

“The boundaries are so messy of what is allowable and what is not,” he said, citing the state law and recent panel cancellation. “There’s kind of an overlying fear of saying something you’re not allowed to say and getting reprimanded for that.”

In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas anti-boycott law on behalf of The Arkansas Times, a newsmagazine based in Little Rock, Ark.

For years, the University of Arkansas’s Pulaski Technical College had published ads in the newsmagazine. But told that he would have to sign the pledge to continue the relationship, the publisher, Alan Leveritt, said that he balked. He had no intention of boycotting Israel but still refused to sign the pledge, he said, because the government should not dictate his political opinions.

“I’m a taxpayer,” he said. “My family’s been in Arkansas for God knows how many generations. Yet I can’t do business with my own state government unless I kowtow to a foreign government.”

Not signing the pledge was a difficult decision for Mr. Leveritt. The Arkansas Times, a free publication, was heavily dependent on advertising, especially from the state.

But a Federal District Court upheld the Arkansas law. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit — the only federal appellate court to weigh in on any of the anti-boycott laws — upheld the ruling, saying that the ban regulated non-expressive commercial activity and did not violate the First Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court let the appeals court ruling stand.

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