Filmmaker files free speech lawsuit against Georgia Southern

Abby Martin (center) speaks at a news conference on Monday, about a lawsuit she filed on Feb. 10, 2020 against Georgia Southern University.

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Abby Martin (center) speaks at a news conference on Monday, about a lawsuit she filed on Feb. 10, 2020 against Georgia Southern University.

A documentary filmmaker filed a lawsuit Monday against Georgia Southern University after she refused to sign a pledge before a speaking engagement at the school that she and her supporters say violate her free speech rights.

Abby Martin said she was asked to sign paperwork agreeing not to support a boycott of Israel before making a speech at the university, which was scheduled for Feb. 28. The state of Georgia passed a law that took effect in 2016 prohibiting contracts exceeding $1,000 with any companies or individuals that engage in a boycott of Israel. Martin said she was supposed to be paid $1,000.

Martin said she was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the 2020 International Critical Media Literacy Conference at the university’s Savannah campus. She said she was asked to sign the pledge last September as part of her compensation agreement. The conference was cancelled that month, a university spokeswoman said.

Martin said she refused to sign the paperwork and later pursued the lawsuit. Much of her work advocates in support of a boycott of Israel, she said in the lawsuit complaint.

“I will not forfeit my constitutional rights by signing this pledge,” Martin, who works with Palestinian rights organizations, said at a news conference Monday, flanked by supporters.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Georgia’s Northern District, in Atlanta.

Georgia Southern and a spokesman for University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley, also a defendant in the lawsuit, said they are reviewing the complaint with the state attorney general’s office noting Martin’s complaint involves a state law. They declined further comment Monday.

Alongside Martin on Monday were Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

Her lawsuit complaint calls for the Georgia law to be ruled unconstitutional. She also wants $1,000 in compensatory damages.

Martin founded the website Media Roots, where she does podcasts about politics and global affairs. The most recent topic include criticism of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Democratic Party presidential race and of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who’s called a “neocon monster.” She recently produced a documentary called “Gaza Fights for Freedom.”

Martin has been criticized for past work, including a prior stint at the RT network, which was funded, according to news accounts, by the Russian government. Her Twitter profile says she has been accused by the federal government of “ ‘fomenting radical discontent’ for covering the news.”