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Posted in: Culture Wars & Censorship

Published on May 02, 2008 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

First Amendment Victory Mysteriously Disappeared by Mainstream Media


NEWSFLASH UPDATE:

Dear Reader: The rapid-action momentum that author Rachel Ehrenfeld has gathered on behalf of the First Amendment is incredible. Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee has introduced a Free Speech Protection Act which you may read below. Senators Spector and Lieberman are involved in this effort which is all based on “Rachel’s Law” (against libel tourism which persecutes and silences authors for telling the truth) which was signed into law by Governor David Paterson.

What is more incredible is the continuing disinterest in this case in the mainstream media.

Specter, Lieberman, King Introduce Free Speech Protection Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 7, 2008)—U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY), Ranking Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, today announced the introduction of the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008. This bill would protect American journalists from libel suits brought in foreign courts that do not have the same protections for free speech that are found in the U.S. constitution. It mirrors H.R. 5814, legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative King.

"Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of expression of ideas, opinions, and research, and freedom of exchange of information are all essential to the functioning of a democracy, and the fight against terrorism," Senator Specter said. "There is a real danger that American writers and researchers will be afraid to address the crucial subject of terror funding and other important matters without these protections."

"Discovering the truth requires full and open debate, which is not possible when courts are used to chill inquiry and research," Senator Lieberman said. "The freedom of American journalists should not be threatened by foreign courts that do not adhere to America's principles of free speech."

"Our journalists provide us with insight on issues that affect all Americans, such as war and terrorism," Rep. King said. "We cannot allow their voices to be silenced by those who prefer to keep secret the inner details of these issues. American authors and journalists should be able to practice their first amendment right without the fear of a lawsuit."

This legislation creates a federal cause of action and federal jurisdiction so that federal courts may determine whether there has been defamation under United States law when a U.S. journalist, speaker, or academic is sued in a foreign court for speech or publication in the United States. The bill authorizes a court to issue an order barring enforcement of a foreign judgment and to award damages.

The impetus for this legislation is litigation involving Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a U.S. citizen and Director of the American Center for Democracy. Dr. Ehrenfeld's 2003 book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, which was published solely in the United States by a U. S. publisher, alleged that a Saudi Arabian subject and his family financially supported Al Qaeda in the years preceding the attacks of September 11. He sued Ehrenfeld for libel in England, although only 23 books were sold there.

The United Kingdom has become a popular venue for defamation plaintiffs from around the world, because under English law it is not necessary for a libel plaintiff to prove falsity or actual malice as is required in the United States. The U.S. journalists or publications who are named as defendants in these suits must deal with the expense, inconvenience and distress of being sued in foreign courts, even though their conduct is protected by the First Amendment in the United States.

HERE IS THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE.
On Thursday, New York State Governor David Paterson signed “Rachel’s (incredible) Law” into being. Rachel Ehrenfeld issued a press release which you may read below.

Although I am still recovering from surgery, I wrote to congratulate her. I asked whether she was inundated by media requests and publishing offers. To date, Rachel has received no requests for interviews. As far as she knows, there are no articles in the works about her extraordinary victory on behalf of the First Amendment. Absent extensive media coverage, Rachel’s chances of raising monies for the next legal go-round are compromised.

The silence speaks volumes. Please write about this. Ask others to do so as well. It is crucial that this bill be widely understood and reported.

The Libel Terrorism Protection Act, also known as RACHEL’s LAW, signed by Governor Patterson:

Albany, NY (May 1, 2008) — New York State Governor David Paterson yesterday signed the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (S.6687/A.9652), which on March 31 passed the state’s Assembly and Senate unanimously.

Also known as Rachel’s Law, the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) will protect American journalists and authors from foreign lawsuits that infringe on First Amendment rights. The bill also received unprecedented support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“New Yorkers must be able to speak out on issues of public concern without living in fear that they will be sued outside the United States, under legal standards inconsistent with our First Amendment rights,” said Governor Paterson. “This legislation will help ensure of the freedoms enjoyed by New York authors.”

Reflecting the New York legislation’s importance, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) on April 16 introduced a similar bill, the Freedom of Speech Protection Act (H.R. 5814), in the House of Represenatives.

In Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, New York State’s highest court held that it was unable to protect Dr. Ehrenfeld from a British lawsuit filed by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim Bin Mahfouz. Britain’s High Court ordered her to pay over $225,000 in damages and legal fees to Bin Mahfouz, apologize and destroy copies of her books.

Instead, November 2006, Dr. Ehrenfeld sought a U.S. federal court order to protect her constitutional rights. But a New York Court of Appeals ruling with national implications sent legal shockwaves throughout American newsrooms.

To continue reading, press here.


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