In September 2017, skeptical activist Britt Hermes was sued by a naturopath who took exception to one of her blog posts. The lawsuit could have forced Britt into silence, which would have been a very bad outcome for Britt herself and for Skepticism in general. Australian Skeptics Inc organised a fundraising campaign that was successful in covering Britt’s legal expenses. The campaign conditions were that leftover funds would be donated to another cause, such as an international organization formed to help skeptics that are sued (or threatened with legal action) for their skeptical activism.
Britt’s case ended in victory, and as the case is now over with the amount remaining just over €32,000, it’s time to move onto the next steps.
Many skeptics believe that a legal defense organization is increasingly necessary. In order to kick off the process of starting such an organization, a discussion was started between Steven Novella, Simon Singh, Britt Hermes and Eran Segev. In December 2020, Michael Marshal took over from Simon Singh. We are all skeptical activists who have engaged in legal action through or related to our activism and have significant experience in many of the relevant areas, but there are still gaps to be filled and we can’t (and don’t want to) do it alone.
Over several months, the guiding principles started to take shape (see below) and we are now at a stage where we are looking for volunteers to help with setting up the organization and running it.
What we need
We need volunteers that have relevant skills to the operations of an international not-for-profit. In particular, legal practitioners from various jurisdictions are needed, especially if they are experienced in the following areas:
- Defamation law
- Freedom of speech
- Commercial law
- Administrative law
Other areas of interest:
- Marketing (especially social media)
If you have these or other skills that you feel may be useful, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following are some of the principles that we expect will guide the organization. They are a work in progress, and we are happy to listen to suggestions. They will eventually lead to a formal mission statement. Ultimately, we hope to be something akin to the ACLU, for skeptics.
- Guided by the need to ensure that skeptical activists are not silenced by legal action. Hopefully, the very existence of the organization would deter some would-be litigants.
- Provide advice on how to reduce the risk of being sued, through the organization’s website and other means. This could include documentation about free-speech and defamation laws in various jurisdictions, as well as other information on how to not fall afoul of the law.
- International and multilingual.
- Provides assistance at its board’s discretion
- Criteria for support to be made clear, and public. Adherence to the advice on the site could be a consideration.
- Assistance cannot lead to financial gain, i.e. if costs are covered by other means, funding is expected to be reimbursed
- Strategies will be developed to ensure the organization’s longevity and effectiveness, so that it is not wiped out on a small number of cases yet is able to make a real difference for those that are helped.
Some of the ways we hope to help individual skeptics and the community as a whole are listed below. We recognise it’s an ambitious list and it won’t happen overnight, but with enough help from the Skeptic movement, we can make it happen.
- Legal advice
- Funding for initial legal advice
- Seed funding for mounting a defence
- Help with fundraising conducted by the person being assisted
- Direct fundraising for a specific case
- Full or limited funding of defence
- Contacts with relevant resources and experts that can and are willing to assist, paid or otherwise
- Assistance dealing with harassment through:
- FOIA requests
- Employer/ workplace complaints
- Public attacks e.g., doxing
- Serve as a hub for a network of support
- Any other support deemed appropriate by the board that does not breach core principles (e.g. financial gain)
- Coordinate and collaborate with other organizations to lobby for better libel laws, anti-SLAPP laws, etc