Lying about valor isn't free speech; it's despicable
Thursday, February 23, 2012
We don't think "free speech" means "license to lie."
Yet that was the defense offered before the Supreme Court this week by Xavier Alvarez' lawyers. Alvarez lied at a public meeting by falsely claiming to have won the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for military bravery.
Alvarez' lie violated the Stolen Valor Act, a new law that criminalizes such conduct.
Alvarez' lawyers see this as a freedom-of-speech issue.
After all, the law does not allow prosecution of people who misspeak, or even who make a plainly false statement. For the law to kick in, there must be intent to deceive, to cash in, in one way or another, on the respect that most Americans accord to those who have won high military honors.
We cannot see where free speech is infringed by protecting someone's deliberate intent to lie about such a matter.
Then again, we could not see the sense in the Citizens United decision that has given rise to the Super Pacs that will, in about a month, make it virtually impossible for any of us in Pennsylvania to watch television without being bombarded with political attacks.
No Constitutional right is unlimited. Quite often, the fullest possible exercise of one right, Constitutionally guaranteed or not, bumps up against the limitations in place because of another right. One classic example is the cliche, "My freedom to swing my arms ends somewhere well short of the vicinity of your nose."
The right to keep and bear arms does not include the right to private ownership of nuclear weapons. The right to freedom of movement does not confer a right to drive motor vehicles on anyone who wants to drive, despite the nonsense being spouted on that score by Sam Rohrer, a far-right Republican candidate for U.S. Senator.
We do not think that Alvarez' conduct, admitted as lies by his lawyers, is within the scope of Constitutionally protected free speech, any more than is commercial speech. There is more involved here than merely saying disagreeable things. Alvarez was trying to profit, feloniously in our opinion, in much the same fashion as the people who send us those piteous email messages from Nigeria are attempting to swindle us.
- Denny Bonavita
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