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Rachel Ehrenfeld: America's Patron Saint of Free Speech
by Rachel Ehrenfeld
Phyllis Chesler: How did you get the SPEECH Act passed?
Rachel Ehrenfeld: The SPEECH Act is the culmination of a just over two-year campaign that involved intensive lobbying and advocacy efforts on behalf of the author and publisher communities.
It is based on the provisions of New York State's Libel Terrorism Prevention Act, which is also known as Rachel's Law. That law passed in 2008 in direct response to a court case in which a notorious libel tourist, Saudi sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, sued me in Britain for libel after I published information exposing his financial connections to Hamas and al Qaeda. I countersued for a declaratory judgment in the U.S. that Mahfouz's English judgment could not be enforced because it violated constitutional protections for freedom of speech in the United States. But the New York courts deemed that they could not take personal jurisdiction over Mahfouz and therefore could not hear the case.
In its opinion, the court suggested that if the law on jurisdiction were to change, the case could be heard. While courts sometimes include this type of language in their opinions, people don't often act on the recommendation as I did.
Within three months, the Libel Terrorism Protection Act was drafted, passed, and signed. Since then, six other states have enacted analogs to that law, which is also known as "Rachel's Law" in a nod to my case. Those states are Illinois, Florida, Utah, Tennessee, Maryland, and California.The SPEECH Act will extend the protection of Rachel's Law nationally. It is sorely needed and I am glad that we have made such stunning progress toward its passage.
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