Hindu American Foundation’s Lawsuit Threat An Attempt to Silence Criticism: IAMC

Date:

The Hindu American Foundation had threatened defamation claim against Indian American Muslim Council over its demand for a federal investigation into the links of Hindu American groups with India’s Hindu supremacist movement.

Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C – There is no “factual or legal basis” for the Hindu American Foundation’s (HAF) “threatened defamation claim” against Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) over a press release it has issued detailing a demand for a federal investigation into the links of Hindu American groups such as HAF with India’s Hindu supremacist movement, a law firm representing the IAMC has said.

“Your demand [that IAMC withdraw its PR] is an improper attempt to silence your client’s [HAF’s] critics and curtail their right to free speech,” Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, an attorney with Dorsey & Whitney LLP, which represents IAMC, wrote in a letter to Ryan J. Stonerock of Harder LLP.

“IAMC will not retract its press release or apologise for its lawful actions.” Colangelo-Bryan was responding to Stonerock’s letter sent to IAMC last month after IAMC released its PR on September 15, 2022.

This PR reported on a resolution passed three days previously by the Teaneck Democrat Municipal Committee (TDMC), which is based in Teaneck city of New Jersey.

The TDMC resolution called upon New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, US Senators from New Jersey Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, and US Congressman Josh Gottheimer to seek an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) into Hindu American groups HAF, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), SEWA International, Infinity Foundation, and Ekal Vidyalaya.

The TDMC resolutions said these groups had, “direct and indirect ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an Indian rightwing Hindu organisation whose ideology [is] part of Nazism and European Fascism.”

The TDMC resolution further said, “Hindu nationalist organisations had infiltrated all levels of politics,” and that “most local American elected officials remain unaware and unprepared to deal with Hindu extremists.” It asked that the FBI and CIA “step up [their] research on foreign hate groups that have domestic branches with tax-exempt status.”

Responding to HAF, IAMC attorney Colangelo-Bryan wrote that IAMC’s Press Release “accurately describes and quotes the Resolution. Specifically, all of the supposedly defamatory statements you attribute to IAMC are direct quotes from the Resolution.”

Adding that HAF had “no legal basis for a defamation claim against IAMC based on the Press Release,” IAMC attorney Colangelo-Bryan wrote: “First, IAMC cannot be liable simply for reporting on its website that statements were made by the TDMC. IAMC accurately quoted those statements as originally published in the Resolution and correctly attributed those statements to the Resolution. Thus, IAMC is not the “publisher” or “speaker” for purposes of establishing a defamation claim.

 “Second, even if IAMC could be deemed the “publisher” or “speaker” – it cannot – the statements included in the Press Release are not actionable because they are not verifiably false statements of fact. For example, IAMC reported that the Resolution referred to Hindu groups lobbying against US House Resolution 417, but HAF suggests no basis for concluding that statement, as made by the Resolution, was false.”

“The same analysis applies to the Resolution’s statement about threats being made to academics. Beyond that, subjective descriptors used in the Resolution such as “hate groups” and “nationalists” cannot be verified or disproven as facts and thus are statements of opinion, which are not actionable.”

“Finally, even if the statements quoted in the Press Release were actionable – they are not – we would be greatly surprised if HAF were able to demonstrate damages caused by the republication of those statements on IAMC’s website. HAF was unable to establish damages in its baseless suit against Rasheed Ahmed et al. after months of litigation and discovery. There is no reason to believe HAF could make the requisite showing here.”

“For these reasons, your client’s threat of legal action is without basis in fact or law.”

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