Free Speech Protection Act of 2008

On occasion we do get to write about bi-partisan legislation at RedState. This is one of those times.

Meet Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld. There is a bill working its way through Congress right now called the “Freedom of Speech Protection Act” (H.R. 5814 in the House and S. 2977 in the Senate) that would not be moving forward, but for what happened to Dr. Ehrenfeld.

The law comes about because of a book Dr. Ehrenfeld wrote entitled Funding Evil. In the book, Dr. Ehrenfeld traced funding for Al Qaeda back to a group in Saudi Arabia that is financially backed, in part, by the extraordinarily wealthy Saudi businessman Khalid bin Mahfouz. Ehrenfeld named bin Mahfouz and his two sons as fundraisers for terrorism.

Because the book was sold in the United Kingdom, Mahfouz sued Dr. Ehrenfeld there, despite Dr. Ehrenfeld not living in the U.K. The judge determined that the allegations were “of the most serious and defamtory kind” and awarded judgment to bin Mahfouz. Not surprisingly, Dr. Ehrenfeld not only did not fight the lawsuit, but she could not afford to go to Britain, hire a solicitor, and wage a legal fight against a billionaire.

New York responded by passing “Rachel’s Law,” which prohibited the collection of defamation awards that were awarded in countries not sharing our expansive notion of the freedom of speech. And if you are under some mistaken notion that Britain is a land in love with free speech, just read this.

On Friday I interviewed Dr. Ehrenfeld, who is now pushing a federal law similar to the New York law. The federal law, sponsored by Senators Schumer, Specter, and Lieberman in the Senate, will have teeth for an American citizen to counterattack. If an American is sued in a court overseas that does not have similar free speech laws, the American can countersue in the United States. Likewise, a defamation award from an international court will not be recognized in the United States unless it can be shown that the foreign jurisdiction has the same level of support for free speech.

For those of you shaking your heads and wondering if this is really necessary, consider this. Since September 11, 2001, a host of major American media organizations and authors have been sued in Britain by bin Mahfouz and others for daring to connect inconvenient dots. In the past few years, as his legal awards have stacked up, journalistic investigations into terror funding have gone down.

it’s hard to fight when the deck is so stacked against you.

There is a competing version of the legislation working its way through Congress, one that would not have any teeth for counter attack, but would ensure foreign defamation judgments are not recognized in this country. Dr. Ehrenfeld said she hopes the “Free Speech Protection Act of 2008” (S 2977) passes, but as long as Congress passes something to protect American citizens from foreign billionaires attacking us in foreign courts through loose defamation laws, she will be happy.