On August 10, a major victory for freedom of speech was achieved. President Obama signed the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (SPEECH Act) into law, stopping Americans from being sued for libel by individuals in other countries with inadequate First Amendment rights. The legislation is a defeat for those who would seek to silence Americans speaking out against radical Islam by threatening to bankrupt them with costly lawsuits.
The story of the SPEECH Act starts with Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the director of the American Center for Democracy, who bravely stood up to a Saudi billionaire named Khalid bin Mahfouz who she accused of financing terrorist groups in her book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed–and How to Stop It. Mahfouz, who died of a heart attack on August 16, 2009, targeted Ehrenfeld with a lawsuit as he had done to other authors accusing him of having ties to terrorism.
Taking advantage of the United Kingdom’s libel laws that force the defendant to prove their accusations in court, Mahfouz sued 45 publishers and journalists and all settled, except for Dr. Ehrenfeld. The U.N. Human Rights Committee even reported in 2008 that the laws “discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work, including through the phenomenon known as ‘libel tourism.’”