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Editorial: No climate change heresy trials

The Detroit News

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is exploring the propriety of an inquisition to investigate anyone who questions climate change science. But in a society that protects free speech and the right to dissent, the answer to the question is evident — it itself is heretical and dangerous. The First Amendment couldn’t be much clearer on the right of Americans to swim against the dogmatic stream.

Lynch told the U.S. Senate last week that her Department of Justice has discussed the possibility of pursuing civil action against climate change deniers and has referred to the FBI a request to determine whether the department could act.

She was prodded by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, who is at war with the fossil fuel industry. Whitehouse complains the DOJ has done nothing to address what he calls a “climate denial scheme” and compared it to “mischief” by the tobacco industry to deceive consumers on the health threats posed by smoking. Whitehouse has referred to a judicial decision that found big tobacco’s “denial scheme” to amount to racketeering.

Even if the science of climate change is as settled as proponents contend, Lynch’s actions blatantly trample the Constitution. The First Amendment protects even the most hateful and nonsensical speech because individuals in a free and liberal society understand the detrimental effect of stifling dissent.

Add to that the reality that science is never truly settled — it demands vigorous challenge to constantly test and prove its hypotheses.

What Lynch and Whitehouse are hoping to do is silence skeptics with the threat of prosecution to make it easier to push through a radical agenda to combat global warming.

This issue isn’t about who’s right or wrong on climate change. It’s about abusing Americans’ fundamental right to disagree, no matter how out of the mainstream their opinions may seem.

There was a time in this nation’s early history when the majority decreed the existence of God an indisputable fact, and non-believers were subjected to prosecution and persecution. What Lynch is doing is little different.

This country has a great tradition of challenging established truths. Researchers who publicly question the “settled” nature of climate change—and the man-made impacts on it — should never have to fear they may be jailed for their research, wherever it leads.

The chilling effect Lynch’s action might have is unprecedented, and she should be ashamed to have even suggested such a response.

Whitehouse has tried to claim a coordinated effort among scientists and members of the fossil fuel industry, whom he contends pay researchers to publish dissenting pieces on climate change.

But even in his own words, published last May in the Washington Post, he says: “To be clear: I don’t know whether the fossil fuel industry and its allies engaged in the same kind of racketeering activity as the tobacco industry.”

His efforts are an offense to the very principles this nation was founded on, and Lynch should suspend immediately any action her department has taken to chill free speech in the United States.