Albany, NY (May 1, 2008) — New York State Governor David Paterson yesterday signed the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (S.6687/A.9652), which on March 31 passed the state’s Assembly and Senate unanimously.
Also known as Rachel’s Law, the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) will protect American journalists and authors from foreign lawsuits that infringe on First Amendment rights. The bill also received unprecedented support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“New Yorkers must be able to speak out on issues of public concern without living in fear that they will be sued outside the United States, under legal standards inconsistent with our First Amendment rights,” said Governor Paterson. “This legislation will help ensure of the freedoms enjoyed by New York authors.”
Reflecting the New York legislation’s importance, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) on April 16 introduced a similar bill, the Freedom of Speech Protection Act (H.R. 5814), in the House of Represenatives.
In Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, New York State’s highest court held that it was unable to protect Dr. Ehrenfeld from a British lawsuit filed by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim Bin Mahfouz. Britain’s High Court ordered her to pay over $225,000 in damages and legal fees to Bin Mahfouz, apologize and destroy copies of her books.
Instead, November 2006, Dr. Ehrenfeld sought a U.S. federal court order to protect her constitutional rights. But a New York Court of Appeals ruling with national implications sent legal shockwaves throughout American newsrooms.
The New York court potentially undermined U.S. journalists’ ability to expose terrorism’s financial and logistical support networks, when it ruled that the court lacks jurisdiction to protect Americans – on U.S. soil – from foreign defamation judgments that contradict the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Rachel’s Law declares overseas defamation judgments unenforceable in New York State unless the foreign defamation law provides, in substance and application, the same free speech protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The law gives New York residents and publishers the opportunity to have their day in court.
The bill could not have passed without the expert assistance of Attorney Daniel Kornsein of New York City’s Kornstein, Veisz, Wexler & Pollard, LLP. Kornstein represented Dr. Ehrenfeld in Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz.
Its supporters included First Amendment Attorneys Floyd Abrams, David Siegel, Samuel Adaby, Harvey Silverglate; the New York City Bar Association; PEN; The Authors Guild; New York D.A. Robert M. Morgenthau; Former Secretary of State George Shultz; Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey; State University of New York Counsel Nicholas Rostow; 9/11 Families for a Secure America; The Association of American Publishers; Act for America; Rabbi Aaron Raskin; New York Board of Rabbis President Joseph Potasnik; many other public officials and tens of thousands of concerned New Yorkers and Americans, especially New York business leader Lawrence Kadish and ACD Senior Fellow Alyssa A. Lappen.
“This law will give New York’s journalists, authors and press the protection and tools they need to continue to fearlessly expose the truth about terrorism and its enablers, and to maintain New York’s place as the free speech capitol of the world,” Lancman stated.
“The truth is a critically-important component in the War on Terror,” said Senator Skelos. “This important new law will protect American authors and journalists who expose terrorist networks and their financiers.”
Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said: “Terrorism and terrorist financing are matters of vital interest to all New Yorkers, in no small part because New York City remains a target of significance for international terrorists. New York authors must have the freedom to investigate, write and publish on terrorism and other matters of public importance, subject only to limitations that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. This legislation will help to ensure such freedom.”
Today, Governor Paterson declared the intention of New York State, the publishing capital of America, to safeguard the First Amendment and its courageous writers.
Rachel’s Law marks an important step in Dr. Ehrenfeld’s efforts to stop Arab billionaires like Khalid bin Mahfouz from attempting to silence U.S. writers who
expose Saudi terrorist funding and global radical Muslim organizations, including al Qaeda and Hamas.
Rachel’s Law — and your financial support—now make it possible for Dr. Ehrenfeld to return to court for a declaratory judgment against Mahfouz. Your generosity makes possible the continued exposue of financial jihad by courageous investigative journalists and researchers. We are only as strong as our supporters, and your financial assistance is essential to our success.
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