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The full Texas Second Court of Appeals yesterday rejected an attempt by a coalition of seven Islamic organizations to further their defamation lawsuit against an online writer and have him branded as less than a “real” journalist.
As WND reported, after Joe Kaufman wrote an article for the online FrontPage Magazine exposing terrorist connections in two American Muslim groups, he was sued by a swarm of Islamic organizations, none of which he had even mentioned in his article.
The lawsuit technique is called by some “legal jihad” or “Islamist lawfare,” and the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Kaufman in the lawsuit, claims Muslim advocates are using the strategy to bully online journalists into silence.
“The lawsuit against Kaufman was funded by the Muslim Legal Fund for America. The head of that organization, Khalil Meek, admitted on a Muslim radio show that lawsuits were being filed against Kaufman and others to set an example,” claims a Thomas More statement on the case. “Indeed, for the last several years, Muslim groups in the U.S. have engaged in the tactic of filing meritless lawsuits to silence any public discussion of Islamic terrorist threats.”
And though a three-judge panel of the court had unanimously dismissed the case, the Islamic groups sought an “en banc” opinion, meaning a ruling from the entire court of seven justices.
The Texas Second Court of Appeals, however, issued a “per curiam,” or entire court, opinion yesterday, upholding the panel’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented in a statement, “It is gratifying to see our client’s First Amendment rights being upheld by this entire Texas Appeals Court. We do not yet know if these Islamic groups will try another appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, but this ruling is an indication of how strong this First Amendment case is.”
As WND reported, Kaufman’s troubles began in 2007, when he wrote the article criticizing two Islamic groups for hosting a “Muslim Family Day” at Six Flags over Texas, a Dallas-area amusement park. The Islamic Circle of North America and the Islamic Association of North Texas, Kaufman revealed, had funneled money to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and al-Qaida.
“While using images of cartoon characters and sponsoring events at amusement parks may seem innocuous, the danger that the Islamic Circle of North America poses to the United States, Canada and others is clear,” Kaufman wrote. “As a faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization looks to impose Islam on Western society, and as a donor to a terrorist organization, the group is a willing participant in the act of violence.”
And while neither the ICNA nor the IANT claimed libel, seven other Muslim organizations – the Islamic Society of Arlington, Texas, Islamic Center of Irving, DFW Islamic Educational Center, Inc., Dar Elsalam Islamic Center, Al Hedayah Islamic Center, Islamic Association of Tarrant County and Muslim American Society of Dallas – cried foul, bringing the defamation suit against Kaufman.
“This frivolous lawsuit is an example of the legal jihad being waged by radical Islamic organizations throughout our nation,” Thompson said. “These lawsuits are aimed at stifling the free speech rights of Americans who dare to expose their agenda. They intentionally file lawsuits to intimidate reporters who seek to expose their agenda. By making it costly to defend against their lawsuits, they hope journalists will refrain from writing about the threat to our nation.”
The organizations suing Kaufman also asked the court to deny him certain legal protections granted to traditional journalists, claiming that as an Internet writer, his right to seek a quick and inexpensive dismissal of the case didn’t apply.
The case set up a battle, not only between Islamic advocates and those that would question their political connections, but also between organizations that fly low under the mass media’s radar, enjoying little public scrutiny, and the burgeoning field of Internet journalism that often investigates places the mainstream media ignores.
A three-judge panel of the Texas Second Court of Appeals, however, not only ruled that the Muslim organizations had no basis for claiming defamation – since Kaufman didn’t name or point to them in his article – but also declared that online journalists do merit the same status and legal protections that their more traditional media peers enjoy.
The opinion of the court, written by Justice Terrie Livingston, overturned a lower court’s denial of Kaufmann’s motion to dismiss the libel claim before a time-consuming and expensive trial.
Listing seven different reasons for the court’s decision, Justice Livingston wrote, “We conclude that an Internet author’s status as a member of the electronic media should be adjudged by the same principles that courts should use to determine the author’s status under more traditional media.”
The court did not, however, uphold that all Internet writers – such as bloggers – should be afforded the protections traditional journalists enjoy.
Kaufman, the court noted, has written for a variety of national publications since 1995, has appeared on several television news networks and in writing for FrontPage Magazine, was writing for a separate online news source with the freedom to accept or reject his article.
The court concluded, “We believe that these facts and circumstances, establishing Kaufman’s journalistic background and his notoriety outside of the parameters of the article and graphic at issue and FrontPage Magazine’s broad readership and its existence as a news/commentary medium that is independent from Kaufman’s articles, are sufficient to qualify Kaufman as a member of the electronic or print media and to qualify FrontPage Magazine as an electronic or print medium.”
Furthermore, the court ruled, that the Muslim organizations’ contention that an Internet author could “never” qualify as a member of the media “would make as little sense as an inverse rule that a print author (such as someone distributing their own photocopied musings) would always qualify as such.”
Yesterday’s decision by the entire court affirmed the panel’s decision with few words and no commentary, stating simply, “It is the opinion of the court that the motion for rehearing should be and is hereby denied and that the opinion and judgment of June 25, 2009, stand unchanged.”
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., provided the lead attorney to represent Kaufman at no charge