The Christian anti-porn campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist has apparently threatened a defamation action or something of the kind against the blog No Place for Sheep (NPS).
NPS is the blog of Jennifer Wilson, an Australian academic, psychotherapist, and writer. It suggests that Ms Tankard Reist's threat relates to true claims that she is a Baptist who attends the church in Belconnen - what this really amounts to, I think, is that the blog suggests she is motivated in her anti-porn campaign by her adherence to a conservative Christian belief system.
There may be more to it than that. I don't claim to have researched all the claims made by the blog about Ms Tankard Reist. Perhaps some genuinely defamatory imputation can be found there somewhere ... or not.
In any event, she is a public figure and a forthright campaigner for her cause, one who makes plenty of robust statements of her own (I'm wording this carefully, as I'm not especially interested in being slapped with a letter of demand or a defamation suit myself).
I submit that legal threats by public figures that attempt to silence opponents' speech about matters relating to social and political policy are abusive of the court system. We need to reform defamation law to make it much harder for this kind of chilling action to take place. I suggest that it should be easier for courts to strike out intimidatory and facially unmeritorious claims by public figures at a very early stage - and that in such cases legal costs should automatically be assessed against the plaintiff on an indemnity basis. That would provide some real disincentive to one class of attempts to use the court system to stifle debate on matters of public interest. Come to think of it, this could be extended beyond defamation actions to cover other actions where freedom of speech is at stake. Policy should lean against the use of the civil courts to silence speech, unless the speech concerned meets some very tight criteria (I'm not going to propose them here, but it's something we can return to).
If Melinda Tankard Reist does go ahead and pursue any sort of legal action against No Place for Sheep - or anyone else whose speech she disapproves of - I expect that there will be some kind of appeal for money to cover the costs of defending the case, which could be very large (some of you will be aware of the Simon Singh case in the UK as an example of the sums that can be involved in defending unmeritorious defamation cases). At that stage, it would be worthwhile having a closer look at exactly what is involved. It's still early days, but this just could turn into a case where important freedoms are at stake and something needs to be done collectively to defend them.
I'll await developments, but please keep this one in the back of your minds.