First Amendment

First Amendment Advocate Defends Right to Lie


Americans generally have a First Amendment right to lie, and that protects the tall tales told by a man who claimed he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

That’s the take of Ken Paulson, the former editor of USA Today and the president of the First Amendment Center. Writing at USA Today, Paulson says the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the right decision when it struck down the Stolen Valor Act last month on First Amendment grounds.

Xavier Alvarez had challenged his prosecution under the law. The medal claim wasn’t his only lie. He also claimed to have played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and to have been secretly married to a Mexican starlet.

People lie a lot, Paulson says, citing a study that found British men tell an average of three lies a day, and British women an average of two lies. Lies in this country are generally protected by the First Amendment, he says, although there are limits. You can’t lie to defraud someone, for example, and you can’t lie under oath.

Paulson calls the Alvarez decision a “tough sell,” saying there is likely be little support for the idea that people who have never even been in the military can claim they were awarded medals for their bravery.

“Still, most Americans would probably be receptive to the court’s core message,” he says. “We can’t let government police truth in a free society. If the government wants to punish those who lie about military service, it has to write a tighter law, requiring a clear intent to defraud.”

Hat tip to Pat’s Papers.

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