A blogger and a lawyer sued over comments they made in the case of a Muslim-to-Christian convert said in court filings Tuesday that their remarks and postings were constitutionally protected free speech.
Columbus, Ohio, attorney Omar Tarazi said in the $10 million lawsuit last month that Atlas Shrugs blogger Pamela Geller and Florida attorney John Stemberger defamed him by alleging he has contacts with terrorists and criminals.
Geller said many of the postings singled out in the defamation lawsuit also could fall in the realm of hyperbole and not defamation.
In addition, statements of facts she may have posted "are accurate reports of statements of others or they are true statements simply," according to the filing in U.S. District Court. Geller was writing about a matter of public interest as a journalist and so is protected by the First Amendment, the filing said.
Stemberger said in a similar filing Tuesday that comments he made about Tarazi are protected by a legal privilege.
He also said that any statements he made about the attorney "were made in good faith and upon information and belief that the statements made were true."
Tarazi represented the parents of Rifqa Bary, a Christian teenager who fled to Florida, saying she feared harm from her Muslim mother and father. Bary was returned to Ohio last year and placed in foster care while a juvenile court judge tried unsuccessfully to reunite Bary and her parents.
Bary left the custody of Franklin County children services when she turned 18 in August. Police investigations in Ohio and Florida found no evidence she would be harmed.
Bary, who emigrated from Sri Lanka with her family when she was 5, was an illegal immigrant until she gained her green card last month.
Tarazi said Tuesday he had not yet seen the court filings.
Stemberger represented Bary in Florida before she was returned to Ohio. Geller has advocated for Bary on Geller's Atlas Shrugs blog.
Geller's attorney, David Yerushalmi, said in an interview that nothing his client wrote was defamatory or malicious in the sense of reporting something she knew was false.
The Florida Bar's grievance committee said last month it is drafting a misconduct complaint against Stemberger based on a complaint by Tarazi.
In his lawsuit, Tarazi said Geller wrongly linked him to Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the U.S. government. He said she also falsely said he was appointed to represent Bary's parents by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
CAIR is a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group. Geller repeatedly refers to Tarazi on her website as a lawyer appointed or selected by CAIR. Her website also includes links to sites alleging CAIR is a terrorist front.
Geller also leads an organization called Stop Islamization of America that placed ads on New York City buses last spring, offering information to those wishing to leave Islam. And she organized a protest on Sept. 11 in New York against a proposed Islamic cultural center to be built near ground zero.
Tarazi said he has never worked for CAIR or been appointed by the group to represent Bary's parents. He said he worked for the couple pro bono except for some minor expenses his clients paid for.
Tarazi said his mother volunteered as a secretary with CAIR-Ohio in Columbus but left that position three years ago.
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