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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

July 10, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. July 8, 2018.

An Arkansas law that took effect about a year ago requires contractors bidding on state jobs to sign a pledge they are not boycotting Israel.

We’re fairly certain most of these contractors just sign the paperwork and move on without giving it another thought. The Arkansas Division of Building Authority has issued more than 1,500 contracts since last summer, when the law went into effect.

The law requires that any person or company that contracts with the state submit a written certification that they are “not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

Boycotts are protected under the First Amendment, and Arkansas and other states that have enacted the law (25 to be exact, while 12 others have pending legislation) could be subject to litigation alleging First Amendment rights violations.

Just because something “doesn’t seem to be an issue,” as Joey Dean, executive vice president of the Arkansas chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, put it, doesn’t mean it isn’t a violation of rights. It’s doubtful any contractor doing business within the state of Arkansas would raise an objection, but it’s happened in other states, and we can’t understand why Arkansas would want that possibility to ever be out there.

We’re fairly certain very few contractors in Arkansas have ties to Israel or the Middle East or are well-versed in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which triggered the enactment of anti-boycott laws around the country. (According to BDSMovement.net, “The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”) But we must ask: What else will Arkansas residents be told they can’t boycott?

The American Civil Liberties Union won a case this year in which it argued that a Kansas law that required a public school educator to certify she won’t boycott Israel violates her First Amendment rights. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in December against a similar law in Arizona. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree wrote, ”(T)he Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.”

The Supreme Court also has held that government may not deny a benefit to a person (or perhaps a contractor) because he or she holds the “wrong” opinion, and so, denying business to a qualified contractor for that reason raises concerns about the law’s constitutionality.

Arkansas state Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, one of the bill’s drafters (along with state Sen. Bart Hester, R-District 1), said there was not a particular incident in Arkansas that fueled the bill being written, but rather it was a reaction to the BDS movement. It appears Arkansas merely went along with the other states that had previously adopted the law, and we have to wonder why time was spent crafting legislation that not only could be unconstitutional but also has very little to do with Arkansas itself. Dotson said the law ”... shows we’re not going to support any entity that is trying to cause detriment to the state of Israel,” but there appears to be little connection to our state at all regarding the Middle East, the BDS movement or Israel itself.

In our country’s history, boycotts have been the lifeblood of change (think the Montgomery Bus Boycott from the mid-1950s). And while we aren’t saying we support a boycott against Israel, we support anyone who feels the need to express his or her opinion through that manner, whether it’s a local boycott or something on a national or international level. It’s that freedom of speech that’s at stake, at least with contractors wanting to do business here.

We appreciate those who have called the law into question and believe they are correct in the belief that the law may be an infringement on First Amendment rights. You don’t have to have an opinion on Israel or be a Republican or a Democrat to be concerned when states begin penalizing citizens for their political viewpoints or questioning someone about their beliefs before they’re allowed to be given a job contract. We hope others see the potential harm and legal issues that could arise from it.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. July 10, 2018.

The entire farm lay in ruins. Only minutes before, the human beings had broken through, all the way to the windmill, and shot the place up with their firearms. Even Napoleon, who had been directing the battle from the rear, was slightly wounded when a pellet clipped his tail. He would later receive the Animal Hero Medallion First Class (with Valor) to mark his bravery.

The humans were gone now, but everything was destroyed. They had made their way to the center of the farm, but none of the animals thought they could tear down the windmill. From the barn, the pigs scolded the two-legged creatures when they took out their tools. They couldn’t tear down the windmill in a week, Minimus assured the animals. Until Benjamin noticed that one of the men had a drill. “Blasting powder comes next!” Benjamin yelled.

Enraged, the animals charged the enemy. But not before the human beings lit the charge, and the explosion wounded several on both sides — four legs and two legs.

And now the farm lay smoldering.

The men had fled, but all the year’s work lay here, there and everywhere. Even parts of the windmill’s foundations had been ripped from the ground. Some of the stones used to anchor it to the ground would never be found again. The force of the explosion had flung them beyond even the reach of Boxer and Clover. It was as though the windmill had never been.

The animals had won, but many were wounded. They were weary. The sight of their dead comrades moved some of them to tears.

As they slowly began to understand just what had happened, Squealer, who had unaccountably been absent during the late fighting, came skipping toward them, beaming with satisfaction and patting other animals on the back. And the animals heard the booming of the celebration gun going off near the farmhouse.

“What is that gun firing for?” asked Boxer.

“To celebrate our victory!” cried Squealer.

“What victory?” asked Boxer. He was bleeding from the nose and knees, three of his four shoes were gone, his front hoof was split almost in two, and he could feel the pellets in his backside.

“What victory, comrade?” Squealer asked, puzzled. “Why, have we not driven the enemy off our soil? The sacred soil of Animal Farm!”

“But they have destroyed the windmill, and everything we’ve worked for,” Boxer countered.

“So what? We will build another one soon enough. You do not appreciate, comrade, the mighty thing that we have done. The enemy was in occupation of this very ground not 30 minutes ago. And now — thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon — we have every inch of it back again!”

“Then we have won back what we had before, only now it’s worse and more of us are dead.”

“That’s our great victory!” said Squealer.

When the animals saw the green flag flying again, and heard the gun sounding — and, most of all, heard the speech that Napoleon made, congratulating them on their conduct — it did seem to them, after all, that they had won a great victory in battle. And the animals slain in the war against the two-legs were given a solemn funeral. Boxer and Clover pulled the wagon that served as the hearse, and Napoleon himself walked at the head of the procession . . . .

The headline in Sunday’s paper caught our attention, like a fishing lure. It read: “Syrian forces jubilant over recapture of crossing.” Syrian soldiers, singing the praises of President Bashar Assad, had taken control of an important border crossing with Jordan, and the regime was on its way to victory. In a separate development, rebels against the regime had negotiated an end to the violence in the southern part of Daraa. That is, they negotiated the end of violence with the Russians.

“We have ended their existence,” one Syrian officer boasted. Of the rebels: “They have no future anymore, God willing.”

The government’s army set up checkpoints at the Naseeb border with Jordan, along a largely deserted road full of potholes from shelling. Heavy smoke belched from a local factory. Glass littered the ground. Partially burned government buildings were pockmarked with shell and bullet holes. Looting was pervasive. And Russian troops were taking positions on both sides of the border.

And troops flashed victory signs and chanted pro-Assad slogans.

All of it reminded us of Chapter 8 of George Orwell’s brilliant “Animal Farm.” Which remains as relevant today as it was immediately after World War II. Unfortunately, grievously, tragically.

___

Texarkana Gazette. July 10, 2018.

These days you hear a lot of talk about “fake news.”

The idea is usually that the media blows up stories of little real importance or doesn’t tell the whole story.

One can debate the merits of those claims all day long. But one thing that’s certain is sometimes the media and the public don’t have access to the whole story. At least not until later — sometimes years later.

Back in March 1925, a Tennessee state representative and fundamentalist Christian activist named John W. Butler succeeded in having a law passed prohibiting the state’s public schools from teaching the theory of evolution or even questioning the Biblical account of creation. The law was popular in many circles but controversial in others. The governor signed the line for political reasons, but was reportedly certain it would never be enforced. But others decided to take a more proactive stance. And so a couple of months later some prominent citizens of a small Tennessee town called Dayton, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, decided to put the law to the test.

They recruited a young teacher named John T. Scopes to violate the ban and go to trial. He did and on May 5 was arrested. And that’s when things got interesting. While the Dayton provocateurs no doubt expected a little publicity, they could not have foreseen the circus to come.

The arrest made headlines around the country. By the time the trial got underway on July 10 — 93 years ago — thousands had crowded into town. There were the devout, the profane, the media and just the curious. And of course there were plenty of hucksters offering all sorts of lotions, potions and shows to separate the suckers from their shillings.

America’s most famous attorney, Clarence Darrow, appeared for the defense. The “Great Commoner” and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution. It was a great show of a trial, later fictionalized and immortalized in the play and film “Inherit the Wind.”

The case ended the same way on film and in real life — the jury voted guilty and the teacher was fined $100. The verdict was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court on a technicality. But the court did not strike down the Butler Act and it remained state law for decades.

For years the public perception of the Scopes trial — heavily influenced by the film version — was of a crusading young teacher fighting a angry town full of religious fanatics. It wasn’t until the book “Center of the Storm: Memoirs of John T. Scopes,” which was co-written by Texarkana author Dr. James Presley, appeared in 1967 that the truth came out. The whole thing was a setup by community leaders, working with the ACLU, to test what they considered an unconstitutional law.

And that, as the late Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.

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