Dissenting Scientific Opinion May Soon Be Illegal

If you want to know what censorship in America will look like, look no further than California. The future is (almost) here.

A landmark bill allowing for the prosecution of climate change dissent effectively died Thursday after the California Senate failed to take it up before the deadline.

Senate Bill 1161, or the California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act of 2016, would have authorized prosecutors to sue fossil fuel companies, think tanks and others that have “deceived or misled the public on the risks of climate change.”

“Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act.” If that’s not Orwellian – or straight out of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – I don’t know what is.

The problem began when government began funding science. At first, at least in theory, government stayed out of scientific content, and merely provided the funds. It was only a matter of time before government began to determine what constitutes scientific truth or falsehood. The final step is to outlaw any dissenting scientific opinion which contradicts the official government science position. Nowhere is this more evident than with “climate science.” California is leading the way.

The measure, which cleared two Senate committees, provided a four-year window in the statute of limitations on violations of the state’s Unfair Competition Law, allowing legal action to be brought until Jan. 1 on charges of climate change “fraud” extending back indefinitely.

“This bill explicitly authorizes district attorneys and the Attorney General to pursue UCL claims alleging that a business or organization has directly or indirectly engaged in unfair competition with respect to scientific evidence regarding the existence, extent, or current or future impacts of anthropogenic induced climate change,” said the state Senate Rules Committee’s floor analysis of the bill.

Leading the fight against the measure was the Civil Justice Association of California, joined by pro-business groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Business Roundtable.

Justice association President Kim Stone said she was pleased that the state Senate “realized this bill was extreme.”

“Our concern about the bill is that by eliminating the statute of limitations and reviving claims from forever in the past, it’s fundamentally unfair,” said Ms. Stone.

The statute of limitations under the Unfair Competition Law is now four years. As originally introduced, the bill would have allowed climate “fraud” lawsuits extending back 30 years, but later was amended to provide no time limit, she said.

“This bill would be as if the IRS now said that we could audit you for the first year you filed your taxes, or your parents’ taxes, or even for your grandparents’ taxes. Would you have the documentation required to defend yourself if you were accused of having done something wrong?” Ms. Stone said. “No, nobody would have saved their papers because everyone knows the IRS has three years to audit you.”

If this is the only basis for defeating the proposed law, then it’s only a matter of time before it passes. The problem with this law was not that it’s “too extreme;” the problem is that it’s censorship. If the proposed law’s opponents won’t oppose it for being censorship, then they’ve conceded the principle that the government may suffocate scientific dissension about climate change.

Whether you pass a law imposing censorship retroactively, or censorship effective immediately, matters little to the principle at stake. Yes, it’s even worse to pass a law restricting free speech and freedom of scientific thought extending back decades. But this law violates the First Amendment even if you eliminate the statute of limitations problem. Have things become so politically correct in our society that nobody will stand for the First Amendment on principle any longer? Will we only summon the courage to oppose its violation for technical, marginal reasons? If so, we are really in deep trouble.

It’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court striking a law like this down if Hillary Clinton becomes president and appoints a fifth justice to rubber stamp leftist progressivism (which includes blind allegiance to climate change) on the nation. These justices will find their rationalizations, because they—as the rest of us—are now living in a post-Constitutional America.

We’re not talking about normal civil lawsuits or damages here. For example, in a civil court a company might seek financial claims against another entity when they can prove that entity ruined their business by making fraudulent statements. The onus of proof is on the person making the claim. We’re talking here about a predetermined validity given to any claim made against someone who operates a profitable company and challenges the theory of global warming or climate change. In other words, if you speak out against climate change and you’re a business or corporation, you’re already guilty as charged.

It does not matter if we limit censorship to businesses. The First Amendment applies to all individuals. There’s nothing in the First Amendment to exclude its application to businesses who annoy advocates of global warming and climate change. If leftist progressives may pass laws making it illegal for private companies to cite research about climate change progressives do not like to hear, then what’s to stop conservative religious fundamentalists from passing a law making it illegal for companies to criticize Christianity or promote gay marriages? Free speech is free speech, and we can’t wipe it out when it’s convenient. Shame on California for trying, and even greater shame on those who opposed it merely for technical reasons, rather than reasons of First Amendment principle.

I’m not at all encouraged by the defeat of this bill. The missed opportunity to defend freedom of speech as a matter of principle in California reinforces my fear that most Americans no longer notice, or no longer care, when their most fundamental right of all is threatened. It’s so not 1776. We will miss liberty and freedom when they’re finally gone.

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