by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
Freedom of Speech Under Attack
At cato.org, Walter Olson has posted an interesting discussion of how politicians are increasingly inclined to criminalize politically incorrect speech:
Writing in the Washington Post, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) urges the U.S. Department of Justice to consider filing a racketeering suit against the oil and coal industries for having promoted wrongful thinking on climate change, with the activities of "conservative policy" groups an apparent target of the investigation as well.
Sen. Whitehouse cites as precedent the long legal war against the tobacco industry. When the federal government took the stance that pro-tobacco advocacy could amount to a legal offense, some of us warned tobacco wouldn’t remain the only or final target.
By the mid-2000s, calls were being heard, especially in other countries, for making denial of climate change consensus a legally punishable offense or even a "crime against humanity," while widely known advocate James Hansen had publicly called for show trials of fossil fuel executives. Notwithstanding the tobacco precedent, it had been widely imagined that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution might deter image-conscious officials from pursuing such attacks on their adversaries’ speech. But it has not deterred Sen. Whitehouse.
A Distressing Change of Heart
For generations, the political left in America could be depended upon to uphold the right to free expression no matter what, but it seems that things have changed. As Kevin Williamson notes at nationalreview.org, whereas support for using force to suppress undesirable speech might once have been limited to a small fringe on the far-left ("Oh, that’s just daft old Robert Kennedy Jr., he has all kinds of weird views!"), it’s evidently now respectable with mainstream Democrats:
Sheldon Whitehouse is a sitting United States senator, writing in the Washington Post, arguing for racketeering charges against those who hold heterodox opinions on global warming. How about we ask the candidates what they think about this? Does Mrs. Clinton support the proposal to lock people up…for seeking to publicize their views on political issues? Does Senator Sanders? Senator Warren? Follow-up question: Which other unpopular political views should we be locking people in cages over?
An On-going Campaign to Suppress Dissent
This isn’t the first time Sen. Whitehouse has tried to silence opposing points of view; the John Locke Foundation was among the targets of a previous attempt that occurred a few months ago. As Roy Cordato described it at the time:
Last week the John Locke Foundation received a letter from three US Senators as part of a nationwide witch-hunt targeting scientists, universities, advocacy groups, and think tanks who are skeptical of or have presented any evidence that contradicts the alarmist line on global warming. The letter to the John Locke Foundation, which was the only state based think tank to receive such a letter, was signed by Democrat Senators Edward Markey, Barbara Boxer, and Sheldon Whitehouse. In a demanding and intimidating tone, and with no supporting justification, the letter asks for 10 years of information regarding any payments made by the John Locke Foundation to anyone who might have done work for us on the issue of global warming
Needless to say, we refused to comply!
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