Free speech threatened in Democratic platform

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In case you missed it, the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee wants to remove Independence Day from our list of national holidays.

Well, okay, not explicitly. But insofar as the Fourth of July is our celebration of the liberties for which our Founding Fathers pledged — and many gave — their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, they might as well have.

The committee unanimously adopted a “joint proposal calling on the Department of Justice to investigate alleged corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies who have reportedly misled shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.”

I.e., it wants to criminalize courageous people who still believe it’s okay to think independently, at least about allegedly dangerous manmade global warming.

Perhaps the Platform Committee is ignoring an inconvenient truth, namely, 18 U.S.C. 241: If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in…the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same…They shall be fined…or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both….

Of course the committee will use the dodge Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and the group of liberal Democratic (and one Independent) “Attorneys General United for Clean Power” used when reminded of that little thing called the First Amendment. As Whitehouse put it, “there’s no constitutional right to commit fraud…fraud is not protected by the First Amendment.”

True enough, but what’s the legal definition of fraud, and is it even remotely likely that it can apply to those who question the causes, magnitude, risks, or benefits of climate change and the best responses to it?

First, the definition.

According to The term ‘fraud’ is generally defined in the law as an intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact made by one person to another with knowledge of its falsity and for the purpose of inducing the other person to act, and upon which the other person relies with resulting injury or damage. [Fraud may also include an omission or intentional failure to state material facts, knowledge of which would be necessary to make other statements not misleading.]

Farlex’s Free, the Journal of Accountancy,Merriam-Webster, and other authorities agree.

Second, the application.

Earth’s climate system is one of the most complex natural systems ever studied. It has thousands of subsystems — feedback mechanisms. We don’t know how strong many are, or in some cases even whether they increase or decrease initial warming.

There is an enormous range of opinions among well-qualified climate scientists, geologists, physicists, and other relevant scholars abouthow each of the thousands of subsystems of the climate system will respond to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration; how much warming will come from the added CO2how much harm and benefit will come from that warminghow much benefit will come from the fertilizing effect of rising CO2 on almost all plants; how to balance those harms and benefits against the benefits of the energy derived from fossil fuels; and what would be the costs and benefits of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions by substituting other energy sources for fossil fuels.

In light of all that, proving that anyone who holds any particular position on climate change intentionally misrepresented material existing fact with knowledge of its falsity to induce others to act, withthe result that others actually did act, with resulting damage, would be next to impossible.

And, frankly, at the rate at which the atmosphere is warming in response to all factors, natural and manmade (about 0.8˚ to 0.9˚C per century over the last 36 years), and with a new solar minimum possibly counteracting any earth-bound warming trend over the next several decades, it would take one or two centuries to determine, because damage specifically traceable to human action rather than other factors, if it happens, won’t be clear before then, if ever.

Allow me to suggest a radical idea: “Truth is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless, by human interposition, disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate.”

Oh, forgive me. Those aren’t my words. They’re Thomas Jefferson’s, author of the Declaration of Independence, the celebration of which is still legal — this year, anyway.

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.


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