In news that should shock and anger Americans, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that not only has she discussed internally the possibility of pursuing civil actions against so-called “climate change deniers,” but she has “referred it to the FBI to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for which we could take action.”
Lynch was responding to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who urged Lynch to prosecute those who “pretend that the science of carbon emissions’ dangers is unsettled,” particularly those in the “fossil fuel industry” who supposedly have constructed a “climate denial apparatus.” Lynch is apparently following in the footsteps of California Attorney General Kamala Harris and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, both of whom have opened up investigations of ExxonMobil for allegedly lying to the public and their shareholders about climate change.
None of the public officials involved in this abuse of the prosecutorial power of the government recognize the outrageousness of what they are doing or are urging the FBI and the Justice Department to do. They want to investigate and prosecute corporations and individuals for their opinions on an unproven scientific theory, for which there is not a consensus, despite inaccurate claims to the contrary.
This not only represents a serious blow against the free flow of ideas and the vigorous debate over scientific issues that is a hallmark of an advanced, technological society like ours, it is a fundamental violation of the First Amendment. Will the FBI’s possible investigation include going after dissenting scientists who publish articles or give speeches questioning the global climate change hypothesis?
Will legislators who engage in blasphemy by refusing to recognize a scientific theory as fact and pass legislation to reduce carbon emissions be investigated, too?
The absurdity of this would be laughable if it were not so serious and so dangerous. The very idea that the FBI, the most powerful law enforcement agency in the United States, has had a referral from the attorney general of the United States to investigate whether those who disagree with the climate change theory meet the legal “criteria for which” the Justice Department “could take action” is evocative of Franz Kafka’s chilling novel, “The Trial.”
As I have noted before, this is also reminiscent of the old Soviet Union, where Joseph Stalin persecuted those whom he thought had the “wrong” scientific views on everything from linguistics to physics. Both Lynch and Whitehouse might want to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s book, “In the First Circle,” in which he outlined the Soviet government’s suppression of dissenting scientists and engineers.
Or perhaps General Lynch should review the Inquisition’s persecution of Galileo Galilei for disagreeing with the consensus of his time and advocating the Copernican theory of the universe.
Level-headed, objective prosecutors should not be interested in investigating or prosecuting anyone over a scientific theory that is the subject of great debate. What Lynch should have said to Whitehouse is that the duty of the U.S. Justice Department (and the FBI) is to fairly enforce the laws of the United States in a dispassionate, nonideological manner based on the facts, not to investigate those who hold disfavored views regarding scientific controversies.
The fact that she did not do that, but instead has actually referred this issue to the FBI, should concern everyone who believes in the rule of law and fears the unbridled power of the government.
Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration, the rule of law and government reform—as a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.