Suing Oil Companies for Free Speech = Censorship

Attorney General Loretta Lynch testified Wednesday that the Justice Department has “discussed” taking civil legal action against the fossil fuel industry for “denying” the “threat of carbon emissions” when it comes to climate change.

Why is this not bigger news? The Attorney General of the United States openly admits, before Congress, that she’s considering censorship.

It is censorship. The evidence against global warming is real. You cannot even claim it’s fraud. At a minimum, you have to concede that reasonable people can disagree on global warming. At the maximum, you can show how claims of global warming are anti-scientific, in that some relevant facts are advanced while equally relevant facts are ignored.

There’s also a value judgment involved. You can offer evidence that fossil fuels have a cost. Everything has a cost. But when you weigh the evidence in favor of using fossil fuels against not using them – by the standard of human life – you cannot help but conclude that we’re much better off with fossil fuels than without them.

Regardless, you have a right to express your disagreement with the theory of global warming, as with any other scientific or theoretical formulation or controversy.

Of course, the government rests its case for potential censorship on the idea that oil companies and others stand to gain by disputing climate change. But what does that have to do with free speech? You or I stand to gain by standing up for the First Amendment, or the Second Amendment, or any other right. Is the government to silence you or I because we stand to gain by expressing our views? That’s the principle Attorney General Lynch is trying to establish.

During Lynch’s testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said that he believes there are similarities between the tobacco industry denying scientific studies showing the dangers of using tobacco and companies within the fossil fuel industry denying studies allegedly showing the threat of carbon emissions.

The tobacco industry case was based on two premises; one true, and one false. The true premise was that a company may not deliberately and knowingly present false information to its customers. The false premise was that people who smoke despite knowing the dangers of tobacco are not responsible for their choice to smoke, and that tobacco companies are.

The tobacco case attempted (with success, sadly) to use the true premise to advance the false one. The government said, “The tobacco companies were fraudulent; therefore, they are responsible for the fact that people chose to smoke.” However, that’s not true. The plaintiffs in the case were all people who smoked knowing full well that smoking was hazardous to their health. They chose to smoke anyway. The tobacco companies took the hit for the choices that smokers themselves knowingly made.

The tobacco case was not valid. However, even if it were, it would not apply to oil companies and climate change. People who question climate change use arguments and evidence to support their position. That’s free speech. It would still be free speech even if they offered evidence to support their claim that the earth is flat, that men never walked on the moon, or that 9/11 never really happened. You’re allowed to speak your mind, even when it’s crazy, so long as you don’t violate the rights of another by doing so. You do not violate another’s rights merely by offering an opinion they do not share.

Anyone who owns or has stock in an oil company has every much a right to express his or her views on the subject of climate change as someone who does not. Professors and researchers often obtain grants from the government to advance their theories, ideas or opinions. Are they accused of fraud by someone who disagrees with their theories or opinions? Never. Yet they’re getting government grants. Oil companies obtain all their money with the voluntary consent of their customers.

Having a vested, financial interest in a certain position might call into question the integrity or intellectual honesty of your position. But your legal right to hold it, and express it, should never be in question. Yet that’s precisely what the Attorney General, and her ideological comrades, are going after.

In a chilling statement, Attorney General Lynch said: “This matter has been discussed. We have received information about it and have referred it to the FBI to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for which we could take action on.”

This is Washington double speak for: “Don’t say you weren’t warned.”

Are you listening, America? If you let the FBI go after oil companies for saying things the government does not wish them to say, you could be next.

Incidentally, going after oil companies legally means that gas costs will go up. Will politicians like Lynch and Obama get the blame for that? Never.

Principle matters. When you shrug, laugh or sneer at a big oil company losing its right to free speech, you’re sneering at your own right to free speech. Your rulers are watching your indifference, and will act accordingly.

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