When author Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld wrote “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It”, she named names. One of these was Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi Arabian billionaire, who sued Ehrenfeld for libel, despite her careful documentation.
Ehrenfeld didn’t cower beneath a black hood of silence. She approached her home state of New York for first amendment protection. And “Rachel’s Law” (the Free Speech Defense Act) was drafted and passed by the New York State legislature. It protects authors from so-called “libel tourism” – by which foreign libel judgments from countries where free speech isn’t protected can be enforced.
Shouldn’t there be a federal law to protect U.S. writers, thinkers and bloggers from libel tourism? Actually, the same law was proposed at the federal level, but because there is a loophole that makes it untenable, the law must be passed in each state.
And so far, 10 states have passed Rachel’s Law: NY, TN, UT, LA, FL, OK, SD, CA, MD and IL. Next up: Connecticut, which will hold a public hearing on Monday, March 27, to consider the bill sponsored by two state legislators (Suzio and Markley) alongside written and oral citizen testimony.
The consequence of not passing the bill is obvious. Most writers will self-censor to avoid the financial outcome of libel lawsuits filed by foreign adversaries with deep pockets. For those who don’t, a long litigious journey may await them. So the bill is essential to critical analysis of certain issues that concern prickly foreign actors, people who operate without censure in their own countries because their potential critics lack first amendment protections.
One might ask: Will the same state that hosted the Sandy Hook event (and has jailed one of its questioners) pass a law that actually protects the right to state the facts free from litigious threats by foreign despots, criminals and other litigators? Let’s hope it will. Many diligent, right-thinking people will not rest until it does.
And if it does, maybe then Connecticut’s legislators and others will work to protect alternative writers, thinkers and bloggers from similar threats by domestic despots and criminals.