October 25, 2007

National Media Organizations Join Liberty Counsel in Filing Briefs Before the Florida Supreme Court in Major First Amendment Case


Tallahassee, FL – Nine national media organizations have joined together to file an amicus brief at the Florida Supreme Court in support of Liberty Counsel’s defense of a major First Amendment case known as Rapp v. Jews for Jesus. Liberty Counsel represents Jews for Jesus and will later present oral arguments in the case. The case will have a broad impact on First Amendment rights. The media organizations supporting Liberty Counsel’s First Amendment defense include The New York Times Company, Orlando Sentinel, Sun Sentinel, Florida Press Association, ABC, Inc., ESPN, Inc., Scripps, Association of American Publishers, and Cox Enterprises.

In July 2002, Jews for Jesus sent a newsletter to its supporters and friends in which Bruce Rapp, a Jews for Jesus missionary, wrote in a “Praise Report” that his Jewish stepmother had asked forgiveness for her sins and “repeated the sinner’s prayer with me – praise God!” The newsletter also contained a prayer request for “grace and strength for new Jewish believer Edie and salvation for her husband, Marty.”

The issue before the Court is one of first impression – whether Florida courts will recognize the tort of false light invasion of privacy. The tort of false light overlaps significantly with defamation, but lacks the constitutional safeguards that protect individuals’ freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that torts such as defamation and false light restrict speech. While truth is a defense to defamation, it is not a defense to false light. An individual can be liable for false light invasion of privacy even by reporting truthful information, if it puts someone in a “false light.” Some states refuse to recognize the tort of false light invasion of privacy, because of its detrimental impact on freedom of speech and the press.

The trial court below dismissed all of the claims raised in the lawsuit against Jews for Jesus, including the defamation and false light claims. The state court of appeals upheld the dismissal of all the claims, including the defamation claim, but the court suggested that Florida might recognize a false light claim and, thus, asked the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in on whether such a claim is recognized in Florida. If such a claim were recognized, it would have a chilling effect on free speech.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “The First Amendment is strong medicine designed to cure the disease of censorship. Nonprofit organizations and media sources cannot be silenced by hecklers and censors who disagree with otherwise lawful speech. The best way to combat opposing viewpoints is with more speech. If a newsletter sent to supporters by Jews for Jesus can be censored because someone disagrees with its content, then the First Amendment has lost its meaning and the American Revolution was for naught.”  

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