Free Speech Under Foreign Assault – by Robert Spencer

nofreespeech

Does the United States Constitution protect the freedom of speech of American citizens, or does it not? In this era of globalization, the answer is becoming increasingly muddled. Thursday, an American citizen, Paul Williams, went on trial in Canada. He is charged with violating Canadian libel laws in charges he made in his book The Dunces of Doomsday about a jihad terror cell at McMaster University in Ontario. Likewise in Brazil, an American business writer, Joseph Sharkey, is on trial for what he wrote about Brazilian air-traffic controllers after he survived an airplane crash in Brazil.

Williams and Sharkey both live in the United States, which guarantees that its citizens’ freedom of speech not be infringed. Should Canadian and Brazilian libel laws apply to them? Williams has already had to pay enormous amounts of money for his defense, and Sharkey is likely to be found guilty and given a $500,000 fine. McMaster University wants a cool two million dollars from Williams.

Shouldn’t the United States government protect American citizens from such bullying by foreign powers?

If nothing is done, the problem is certain to get worse — for Williams and Sharkey are not the first American victims of the tactic that has come to be known as “libel tourism.” The late Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz sued Rachel Ehrenfeld, founder and director of the American Center for Democracy, several years ago. Bin Mahfouz was upset about Ehrenfeld’s book, Funding Evil, in which she wrote that he was involved in funding Hamas and al Qaeda – a charge for which there was abundant evidence from Western intelligence agencies. Nevertheless, taking advantage of British libel laws that place the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than the plaintiff, bin Mahfouz sued not in the United States, where Ehrenfeld lives and published her book, but in Britain, where neither he nor Ehrenfeld lived and where his entire case depended upon a handful of copies sold in that country mostly through special orders from Amazon.com, and the appearance of one chapter of the book on the Internet, where could have been read by British readers. A British court awarded bin Mahfouz $250,000, and Ehrenfeld had to devote the bulk of her time for years to fighting this judgment.

Now Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) has introduced the Free Speech Protection Act of 2009, which would shelter American writers from libel judgments by courts in countries that do not value the freedom of speech the way America does. But this bill faces an uphill battle – it seems unlikely that Barack Obama will give it his support after he just last week had the United States co-sponsor an anti-free speech resolution at the United Nations. Approved by the U.N. Human Rights Council, the resolution, cosponsored by the U.S. and Egypt, calls on states to condemn and criminalize “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”

“Hatred” and “incitement” are, of course, in the eye of the beholder — or more precisely, in the eye of those who make such determinations. The powerful can decide to silence the powerless by classifying their views as “hate speech.” The ability to dissent, publicly and without fear of imprisonment or other reprisal, is a cornerstone of any genuinely free society. Yet no less distinguished a personage than the President of the United States has now given his imprimatur to the quashing of such dissent.

But we still have the First Amendment, right? Legal expert Eugene Volokh explains that it isn’t that easy: “If the U.S. backs a resolution that urges the suppression of some speech, presumably we are taking the view that all countries — including the U.S. — should adhere to this resolution. If we are constitutionally barred from adhering to it by our domestic constitution, then we’re implicitly criticizing that constitution, and committing ourselves to do what we can to change it.”

Is that the change that Americans were hoping for when they voted for Barack Obama in such large numbers in 2008? Specter and the other Democrats who have introduced and support the Free Speech Protection Act should recognize how inconsistent it is with their own party leader’s actions as President of the United States, and call upon him to end all support for any legal measure anywhere that restricts free speech.

Our survival as a free people could depend upon it.

  • omarbaddar

    Robert Spencer doesn't comprehend the difference between dissent and slander!

    “So & so got sued because they made malicious allegations against others without evidence? That's an outrageous assault on our free speech! We must all be allowed to pull hateful garbage out of our ass & libel others & get away with it!”

    I know this is what passes for courageous dissent on front page mag, but please don't expect the rest of us to applaud! Awesome comedy on the site though!

  • josephwiess

    So, this socialist Nobel peace prize winner, is systematically disbanding our constitutional rights. It's time to tell this arrogant child that we are in charge, and he's not. His power flows from us and we are taking it back.

  • bubba4

    Yeah…even though this was about foreign countries, it's really about Obama…you're as sharp as a tack.

  • john2012

    Bubba,

    Your sarcasim indicates that you don't feel Obama has anything to do with the present cases, or the furture direction of our country. This would indiacte to me that your attention span did not allow you to get to the 5th paragraph where President Obama's agenda is more fully disclosed. I guess this explains why he receive so many votes, nobody bothered to read the fine print.

    The same was true about Bush2, Clinton, Bush1, probably back to Kennedy…

    John

  • truethought

    I am in need on some understanding. Under what US Law brings any US citizen under the laws or monetary judgement of another nation? So what if they sued in England and were awarded monetary damages, I am not clear on how I as a US Citizen would be forced to pay those damages awarded by a foreign court or jury.

  • John Q

    I loved this article. All up until the point it went all right wing partisan, blaming Obama for events that, according to the article itself, happened years before he was President.

    How can you in good conscience justify this? Why ruin a perfectly good argument? If you are dedicated to free speech, why muddy it with partisan hackery? Obama hasn't been President for years, he's been President for 9 months.

  • Mundus611

    This is extremely serious, not the least, of course, because our Freedom of Speech derives from our Freedom of Religion. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof: or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
    and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is the First Amendment. It is our greatest protection from tyranny. I think, it would be helpful if every blog and/or webpage, and online publication, would post it at the top of the page, or in a boxed sidebar.I mean this, sincerely, and I hope, it will be considered.It will inform, if not remind, the citizens of the US, and the world , that this is our basic credo. Every Congressperson, and Senator, should definitely post it, and link to the Constitution. It would be interesting to poll every person in Congress, and the Administration to see if they have read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. I have a sneaking suspicion there would be several in the 'no' column.
    Once this Amendment is breached, all is lost.In regards to the UN, we will have succumbed at the UN to the Muslims. That will not happen, and, if Obama does not protect the Constitution, as he swore in his vow upon becoming President, or if he works to dismantle it, he should be considered for impeachment. Anyone who argues with Mr. Spencer on his concerns, is not an American. Freedom is in our gut.It is passed on from generation to generation, and it is easily adopted by sincere immigrants, for they came to be free.They come to America to escape tyranny, political, and/ or religious.Americans understand what he is saying, and it is his right as it is the writers about whom he writes.
    We cannot tolerate, or sustain, a double standard. If Brazil doesn't like the truth of investigative reporting, we understand its bases. No one forces Brazil to distribute the book, or to translate it. Canada has simply lost its way., and the corruption of these panels must be dealt with by the Congress and the Administration within trade negotiations, if that is the sole vehicle available.

  • Mundus611

    This is extremely serious, not the least, of course, because our Freedom of Speech derives from our Freedom of Religion. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof: or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
    and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is the First Amendment. It is our greatest protection from tyranny. I think, it would be helpful if every blog and/or webpage, and online publication, would post it at the top of the page, or in a boxed sidebar.I mean this, sincerely, and I hope, it will be considered.It will inform, if not remind, the citizens of the US, and the world , that this is our basic credo. Every Congressperson, and Senator, should definitely post it, and link to the Constitution. It would be interesting to poll every person in Congress, and the Administration to see if they have read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. I have a sneaking suspicion there would be several in the 'no' column.
    Once this Amendment is breached, all is lost.In regards to the UN, we will have succumbed at the UN to the Muslims. That will not happen, and, if Obama does not protect the Constitution, as he swore in his vow upon becoming President, or if he works to dismantle it, he should be considered for impeachment. Anyone who argues with Mr. Spencer on his concerns, is not an American. Freedom is in our gut.It is passed on from generation to generation, and it is easily adopted by sincere immigrants, for they came to be free.They come to America to escape tyranny, political, and/ or religious.Americans understand what he is saying, and it is his right as it is the writers about whom he writes.
    We cannot tolerate, or sustain, a double standard. If Brazil doesn't like the truth of investigative reporting, we understand its bases. No one forces Brazil to distribute the book, or to translate it. Canada has simply lost its way., and the corruption of these panels must be dealt with by the Congress and the Administration within trade negotiations, if that is the sole vehicle available.

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