Cliff May

Publisher Roger Kimball has noted that when he was about to publish Andy McCarthy’s Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, he received a message from a distributor working in the U.K. and Canada asking if there were “any references to Saudis and terrorist[s] in the book” as that “could potentially create libel lawsuits as it could offend Saudis living in England and this has happened with many other US publications and we do not want to be jeopardized in selling this book.” No, no – we wouldn’t want that, would we?

Kimball was not intimidated but some writers no doubt have been, and other publishers have not just turned down “risky” books but pulled volumes from shelves and destroyed them following threats of legal action.

What can be done to protect Americans from having our speech restricted by foreign terrorist financiers, foreign lawyers, foreign judges and their toadies?

Representatives Peter King (R-NY) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY) have introduced the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, which would give Americans who find themselves in the situation described above a “federal cause of action” to sue right back – and to claim legal fees, costs and significant damage awards as well if a U.S. court concludes that the foreign suit was “a scheme to suppress First Amendment rights.”

What’s more, the bill would provide “expedited discovery”: The plaintiff would be compelled to disclose information and documents relevant to the charges – something few investors in terrorist enterprises are eager to do.

On the Senate side, the bill is being shepherded by Senators Joseph Lieberman, (DI –CT), Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Charles Schumer (D-NY). What obstacles are preventing this bill from being passed into law? Let us count them.

First, though there is bipartisan support for this approach, not enough backers -- so far at least -- are from the majority party: Of ten sponsors on the House side, only one is a Democrat. Second, we’re deep into the presidential campaign season, a time when very little moves on Capitol Hill. Third, never underestimate the ability of the Saudis, their lobbyists, their allies and their courtiers, to kill that which interferes with their interests.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.