The House of Representatives last week introduced the Free Speech Protection Act, which would put an end to "libel tourism," the widespread practice of shopping libel suits in countries with weaker free speech protections than the U.S. The bill, introduced by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), would prohibit U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents. It would also allow American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment.
The bill was inspired by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 book Funding Evil led to an intense legal battle with Saudi businessman Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz. In Funding Evil, Ehrenfeld accused Mahfouz as being a terrorist funder who funneled millions of dollars to radical terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Hamas. Rather than challenging those facts in a U.S. court, Mahfouz filed in Britain, where it is much easier to prove libel—and won. Mahfouz also filed libel suits against nearly 40 other American publishers and authors.
Ehrenfeld's fight inspired the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, known as Rachel's Law, which was enacted in New York last year, declaring that foreign libel judgments are unenforceable in New York courts. The legislation passed unanimously in the state's legislature, and a similar bill later passed in Illinois. In an interview, Ehrenfeld praised the legislation, commenting that it will "be very effective to deter anybody who wants to intimidate American writers and publishers for exposing the truth." She said the bill is not only important for free speech, but also for national security. "We are trying to protect our ability to do what we have to do, as reporters, which is to shine light on things that pose a threat to our democracy. And this law will enable it." Ehrenfeld has hopes that the bill will pass quickly because there is no budget involved. She also said that when the law passes she will go back to court and reopen her case.