Writers who work to expose the threat of radical Islam are celebrating a victory in New York, where the Senate unanimously passed the Libel Terrorism Protection Act in late February.
According to MEF Legal Project director Brooke Goldstein, "libel terrorism is being waged in the form of frivolous and malicious lawsuits designed to intimidate, silence, and bankrupt anyone who speaks out against terrorism, Islamism, or its sources of financing." The strategy often involves forum-shopping, whereby American authors and publishers are sued in nations with plaintiff-friendly libel laws.
The most popular destination for these cases has been Great Britain. Writing in the Guardian, Geoffrey Wheatcroft explains why:
Unlike the defendant in a criminal case or other civil suits — or in a U.S. libel action — he is assumed to be in the wrong, and must prove that "the words complained of" are true. Under "no win, no fee," the plaintiff is gambling someone else's money, while the defendant is on a hiding to nothing.
The bill was introduced in response to a British judgment rendered against New York-based researcher Rachel Ehrenfeld over her book Funding Evil. The court ordered Ehrenfeld to apologize and pay $225,000 to Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, whom she had accused of financing organizations with terrorist links. Ehrenfeld refused to recognize the ruling. However, her countersuits aiming to have the judgment declared unenforceable by U.S. courts were recently dismissed due to issues of jurisdiction.
The Libel Terrorism Protection Act addresses these thorny problems. First, it prohibits New York courts from enforcing overseas libel judgments "unless a court sitting in this state first determines that the defamation law applied in the foreign jurisdiction provides at least as much protection" as federal or state law does. Second, it makes it easier for authors and publishers to challenge foreign rulings in state courts.
Senator Dean Skelos neatly encapsulated the significance of the act's passage:
The ability to expose the truth about international terrorist activities is critically important to the global war on terror. These foreign courts are trampling the First Amendment protections guaranteed to American writers and journalists by our Constitution and this legislation will ensure that they cannot infringe upon our freedom.
Now other states must follow New York's lead. Only with the full set of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms at hand can we hope to defeat those who wish to extinguish them.
April 16, 2008 update: The Libel Terrorism Protection Act, which shields New York authors from defamation judgments in foreign courts, unanimously passed the Assembly on March 31. Inspired by a lawsuit aiming to silence terrorism researcher Rachel Ehrenfeld, the bill had been approved by the Senate a month earlier. Now it awaits the pen of Governor David Paterson, who is expected to sign it into law. His signature will help ensure that writers and publishers have the freedom they need to expose the designs of radical Islam.