John Locke Update / Research Newsletter (Archive)

Freedom of Speech Under Attack

posted on in Legal Update

View in your browser.

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!

Click here for the Legal Update archive.

You can unsubscribe to this and all future e-mails from the John Locke Foundation by clicking the "Manage Subscriptions" button at the top of this newsletter.

Jon Guze is Senior Fellow in Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over 20 years. He received a J.D., with honors, from Duke Law School… ...

Donate Today

About John Locke Foundation

We are North Carolina’s Most Trusted and Influential Source of Common Sense. The John Locke Foundation was created in 1990 as an independent, nonprofit think tank that would work “for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina.” The Foundation is named for John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher whose writings inspired Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders.

The John Locke Foundation is a 501(c)(3) research institute and is funded solely from voluntary contributions from individuals, corporations, and charitable foundations.