Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Free opinion vs. free speech

The Duluth News Tribune ran a Pro/Con about free speech and climate change.  The Con was an article by H. Sterling Burnett of the Heartland Institute.  He claimed that climate change deniers should be protected by the First Amendment: the right of free speech.  I think he seriously misreads the Constitution and established law.

According to him, we should all be free to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.  According to him, there should be no libel laws to prosecute those who slander another.

He somehow conflates opinion with lying.

I could say H. Sterling Burnett is a jerk, and all he could do would be to refute my statement.  He could not take me to court for my statement.  On the other hand, if I said that H. Sterling Burnett embezzled the Heartland Institute of $100,000 when he did not, then he has every right to deny me my “free speech rights” and take me to court for slander.

Check out what Wikipedia has to say about The Heartland Institute.  Among other nefarious activities they worked with " Philip Morris to question or deny the health risks of secondhand smoke and to lobby against smoking bans”.  So, if an organization denies the dangers of smoking, should we believe them when they claim there is no climate change?  They are not stating an opinion; they are lying to the public for the benefit of their paymasters.

His article was only published by two newspapers that I could find.


I hope most other papers had the common sense not to do so.

The climate scientists are the fire marshals telling theater owners there should be no smoking in their theaters.  The climate change deniers are the owners who insist their free speech rights are being denied if they can’t tell their customers there is no problem.  Guess who will be successfully prosecuted when one of those crowded theaters catches fire?