The Magna Carta, which celebrated its 800th anniversary on Monday, isn’t much to look at: it’s 54 lines of text on a piece of parchment, mostly about property rights and small-beer gripes with the feudal system. But it started a cognitive “rights” revolution, which today represents freedoms of all kinds. Most importantly: the freedom to speak one’s mind without fear of punishment.
That freedom is now in free fall. (If you don’t believe me, refer to Caitlyn Jenner as “he” on Twitter and wait an hour for the cancellation of your talk at (insert university here).) Like the proverbial frogs in slowly warming water, most of us have learned to censor ourselves on matters trivial (“Still Bruce, I say!”) and momentous (“Yo, what’s up with Islam?”).
But happily, some courageous souls just won’t take “you can’t say that” for an answer, even if it gets them uninvited from campus speaking engagements, fired, bankrupted or killed.
“If there is no check on the freedom of your words, then let your heart be open to the freedom of our actions.” Who said that? Was it climatologist Michael E. Mann, creator of the famous — and, thanks to Canadian mining entrepreneur Stephen McIntyre, famously discredited — climate-warming “hockey stick” graph? Nah, it was al-Qaida taking credit for the Charlie Hebdo massacres.
But they’re birds of a speech-suppressive feather. They both think dissent from, or mockery of, their sacred belief systems justifies real, or at least professional, death.
Mann is suing columnist Mark Steyn for libel, for writing that his hockey stick is “fraudulent.” One might make the case that “fraudulent” is a fighting word a public figure like Mann was bound to challenge. But according to Mann’s counsel, he doesn’t even think anyone has the right to call his findings “misleading.” (Dude, reread your emails!)
But this column isn’t about the hockey stick graph or the climate wars. For brilliant illumination on all that pertains to the latter, I heartily recommend you read an excellent new book, Climate Change: The Facts, which includes an essay by Steyn.
This column is about the right of Steyn or anyone else to mock mere mortals who claim extraordinary powers over other people’s voices after drinking their own Kool-Aid.
Mann’s suit, which he brought forward for the sole purpose of silencing legitimate voice, and Steyn’s anti-SLAPP countersuit, has been wending its tortuous way to trial in Washington, D.C., for the past four years. Steyn says, with reason, that it is the “most consequential free-speech case before the U.S. courts since New York Times vs. Sullivan,” which culminated in 1964.
Before that, the southern states were doing to news organizations what Mann is trying to do to Steyn: chilling journalistic discourse by recklessly suing them for libel when they published negative press reports about officials involved in racial-segregation controversies. Fearing legal embroilment, many publications began pulling their punches in their civil-rights reporting.
In this key judgment supporting the freedom of the press, the Supreme Court established the “actual malice” standard for defamation and libel, which requires that the plaintiff in such suits prove the publisher of the statement in question “knew that the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.” This rightly put the burden of proof on the plaintiff.
Steyn’s case is making more waves in the U.S. than here, and so it should, since the U.S. represents the gold standard for freedom of speech in the West. Canadians naturally paid more attention to Steyn’s 2007 free-speech battle, when Mohammed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress, offended by one of Steyn’s works published in Maclean’s magazine, tried to shut him up through a human rights complaint. Thanks to the vigorous pushback of Steyn and Ezra Levant, another near-victim of speech-suppressive zealotry, Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was sent packing.
Mann claims he is “taking a stand for science,” but as Steyn notes, “science is disinclined to take a stand for him.” To date, his fellow scientists have not filed a single amicus brief for Mann, while a slew of institutions and publications — the ACLU, the American Society of News Editors, Time, the Washington Post and many more — are filing briefs on Steyn’s behalf, protesting Mann’s insult to the first amendment.
This case isn’t about climate change any more than NYT vs. Sullivan was about geography. It’s about dictatorship vs. freedom. Celebrate the Magna Carta’s 800th birthday by joining Mark Steyn in his (expensive!) battle on behalf of all who value freedom of speech. It’s easy: buy his books, coffee mugs and t-shirts at steynonline.com