Senators Arlen Specter (R, PA) and Joe Leiberman (I, CT) have submitted a bill to the Senate that would protect the free speech rights of Americans against the abuses of foreign jurists and plaintiffs. The problem, as Specter and Leiberman outline it in the Wall Street Journal, is that American authors are being sued by Islamic plaintiffs in foreign courts for writing books and articles critical of Islam. In the U.S. the plaintiff has to prove that a claim is false in order to establish libel, but in England the defendant has to prove the contested claim is true. If he can't he has to pay all costs and damages.
The Senators write that:
Consequently, English courts have become a popular destination for libel suits against American authors. In 2003, U.S. scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld asserted in her book, "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It," that Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz helped fund Osama bin Laden. The book was published in the U.S. by a U.S. company. But 23 copies were bought online by English residents, so English courts permitted the Saudi to file a libel suit there.
Ms. Ehrenfeld did not appear in court, so Mr. Bin Mahfouz won a $250,000 default judgment against her. He has filed or threatened to file at least 30 other suits in England.
To counter this lawsuit trend, we have introduced the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, a Senate companion to a House bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.). This legislation builds on New York State's "Libel Terrorism Protection Act," signed into law by Gov. David Paterson on May 1.
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.
Kudos to senators Specter and Leiberman and to representatives King and Weiner. It will be interesting to see who votes against these bills and why.RLC