Law & Principles
Trent England | May 26, 2023
Coalition thanks Stitt for free-speech stand
A broad coalition of groups that support freedom of speech and the press has sent a letter of thanks to Gov. Kevin Stitt for his veto of HB 1236. The measure would have weakened the Oklahoma Citizen Participation Act, which provides legal recourse against frivolous lawsuits that are intended to chill free speech.
Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall and state Sen. Greg McCortney sponsored HB 1236. The Speaker attempted to override Gov. Stitt’s veto, but the measure failed to receive even a simple majority of votes—far short of the supermajority required.
The text of the letter is below.
Dear Governor Stitt:
The undersigned organizations, which represent a broad coalition across the political spectrum, thank you for vetoing House Bill 1236.
The Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act is one of the nation’s best anti-SLAPP laws. HB 1236 would significantly weaken that law’s protections for citizens faced with expensive and meritless lawsuits (known as SLAPPs, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) aimed at silencing their speech.
The bill would remove current law’s requirement that a speaker who successfully files an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss a meritless case be awarded fees to recover litigation costs. This is a vital deterrent against SLAPP lawsuits. Without an award, a defendant might win the lawsuit, but still suffer financial devastation from costs owed to their lawyers.
Every state should follow Oklahoma’s lead to reduce the punishment that unscrupulous litigants can mete out to their critics and adversaries. Automatic costs and attorney’s fee awards do just that. Importantly, such fee-shifting also enables more attorneys to represent those with limited means fighting a SLAPP.
Thank you, Governor Stitt, for safeguarding the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act that protects citizens’ rights to speech, press, assembly, and petition.
Institute for Free Speech
American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma
Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma
Better Business Bureau serving Central Oklahoma
Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Oklahoma
International Association of Better Business Bureaus
Center for Biological Diversity
Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression
James Madison Center for Free Speech
Motion Picture Association
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Taxpayers Union
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
Oklahomans for Fairness
Oklahomans For Life
People for Opportunity
Public Participation Project
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Professional Journalists
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.