Seven years after 9/11 come Thursday, I don't think we really know what we, as a people, are all about. Are we still fighting "terrorism"? Are we still exporting democracy? What principles have we chucked over these years? What principles have held fast?
One principle that has clearly suffered over these years is that of freedom of speech. Our press may be perfectly gung-ho to press questions home about a vice presidential candidate's amniotic fluid, but they are loathe to discuss far more significant issues pertaining to matters of national security, even matters of national survival. Why? One terrible reason is the chilling effect of a nefarious practice called "libel tourism," whereby a litigious Saudi billionaire, for example, may take a US author, for example, to a British court, for example, over allegations about terror-financing, for instance, made in a US-published book, for example.
Of course, I could only be talking about Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 US-published book Funding Evil became the subject of such a British suit brought by a Saudi billionaire named bin Mafouz. The first writer to fight back--all other media organizations and publishers similarly threatened have apologetically caved in, with Cambridge University Press last summer infamously shredding the book Alms for JIhad without a peep--Ehrenfeld has for four or five years now been embroiled in a costly law suit in US courts. Largely due to her efforts, the New York State Legislature unanimously passed a law protecting New York writers from defamation suits filed in foreign courts--thus recognizing that the First Amendment protections Americans enjoy cannot be trumped by foreign legal systems.
Now, a federal version of what was nicknamed in New York "Rachel's Law" is up before the Congress, brought by Sens. Liberman and Spector and now Schumer, along with Reps. Peter King and Anthony Weiner. If you value our freedom of speech--our first-line weapon in these parlous times--call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to pass HR 5814--The Free Speech Protection Act. And ask them to do it before they close out this congressional session at the end of the month.
Here's what Sens. Spector and Lieberman wrote about the bill this past summer:
Our bill bars U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents, if the speech would not be libelous under American law. The bill also permits American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment. If a jury finds that the foreign suit is part of a scheme to suppress free speech rights, it may award treble damages.
First Amendment scholar Floyd Abrams argues that "the values of free speech and individual reputation are both significant, and it is not surprising that different nations would place different emphasis on each." We agree. But it is not in our interest to permit the balance struck in America to be upset or circumvented by foreign courts. Our legislation would not shield those who recklessly or maliciously print false information. It would ensure that Americans are held to and protected by American standards. No more. No less.
This law is urgently needed. Now.