I try to steer clear of politics here, but sometimes you read about a proposed bill that could have such an impact on society that it seems important to share it.
The bill I’m talking about, the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, was introduced in the Senate by Arlen Spector, a Republican, and Joe Lieberman, an independent. Hopefully my talking about this won’t be seen as any sort of attack/endorsement of a particular party.
You might be wondering why anyone would introduce a bill protecting free speech. I mean, it’s right there in the Bill Of Rights. It seems well protected already.
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, written by Spector and Lieberman, this bill is needed to protect free speech from foreign attack. It seems that some Muslim groups in Europe have taken exception to books and articles written in America that they think paint a not so flattering picture of Muslims.
One such book "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It," written in 2003, by U.S. scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld asserted, that Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz helped fund Osama bin Laden. According to the article, “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.”
“Fear of a similar lawsuit forced Random House U.K. in 2004 to cancel publication of "House of Bush, House of Saud," a best seller in the U.S. that was written by an American author. In 2007, the threat of a lawsuit compelled Cambridge University Press to apologize and destroy all available copies of "Alms for Jihad," a book on terrorism funding by American authors. The publisher even sent letters to libraries demanding that they destroy their copies, though some refused to do so.”
The newly introduced bill would bar 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. It would also permit American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment. If a jury found that the foreign suit is part of a scheme to suppress free speech rights, it could award treble damages.
Spector and Lieberman continue, “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.”
I could see how foreign lawsuits, if enforced in the U.S., could have a dramatic effect on book publishing here. Even if the book was not intended for foreign distribution it could easily be bought online by someone in a foreign country. If this meant the book’s publisher and author were going to be sued, publishers would soon be afraid to publish anything controversial.
What do you think? Should foreign libel suits be enforced here? If the book was never actually distributed in a foreign country should the courts there allow such a suit? Do you think a bill such as this one is needed? Or could this bill, in some way, be an attack on the right of people to sue when they have actually been libeled? Could it have the opposite effect of the one intended and make it possible for anyone to publish anything they wanted, true or not, no matter how slanderous?
Doesn’t this point out the need for other countries to stand up for free speech rights? Isn’t it time that they tell special interest groups, in this case Muslims, that basic rights will not be eliminated just because some people might be offended?