An Illinois-based organization dropped its defamation lawsuit this month against local blogger Jason Haap and two other critics. The two-year-old case was widely viewed as having the potential to set a precedent involving First Amendment protections for online commentary.—-
Attorneys for the Save-a-Life Foundation filed a motion for voluntary dismissal July 7 in federal court, and U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly granted it two days later.
In the lawsuit, Save-a-Life had alleged that Haap, Peter Heimlich and Dr. Robert Baratz conspired to harm the foundation’s reputation by distributing false information to agencies that fund it, as well as serving as sources for a derogatory report on Save-a-Life that aired on WLS-TV, Chicago’s ABC affiliate. The foundation’s lawsuit alleged that 11 groups had ended their relationship with Save-a-Life as a result of efforts by Haap, Heimlich and Baratz.
The trio had criticized the foundation for teaching schoolchildren to use the Heimlich Maneuver as method to help drowning victims, despite the American Red Cross and other groups stating the practice could be dangerous and advising against it.
Haap, a local blogger known as ‘the Dean of Cincinnati,” operates the Cincinnati Beacon Web site and is an independent candidate seeking a spot on the Cincinnati School Board.
Peter Heimlich is the estranged son of Dr. Henry Heimlich, who created the Heimlich Maneuver, and brother of ex-Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich. Peter Heimlich operates a Web site that lists scientific reports that question the maneuver’s effectiveness and safety.
Baratz is a physician who is president of the National Council Against Health Fraud.
Founded in 1993, Save-a-Life teaches emergency First Aid skills to schoolchildren. Dr. Henry Heimlich was a member of the foundation’s medical board until January 2007, when he retired.
The Save-a-Life case was the eighth most-viewed case on a Harvard Law School-affiliated Web site that monitors Internet-related free speech cases.
Save-a-Life is an affiliate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Citizen Corps, a department subsidiary organized by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although Homeland Security officials ordered the foundation to remove the DHS logo from its Web site and materials in spring 2007, the foundation still has the DHS logo on its Web pages.
Additionally, former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) introduced a $40 million Homeland Security appropriations bill for Save-A-Life Foundation in June 2006. The bill died before reaching committee, but became an issue in Coleman’s heated race against Democrat Al Franken.