Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Free speech is not always pleasant speech. It can even include repugnant twisting of the truth.
Yet, the Founding Fathers wisely made it clear that the government cannot make laws that abridge free speech. Instead, those who lie or intentionally mislead others can be held responsible in civil disputes for the harm they might have caused through their deception.
That, however, was not good enough for those who were outraged by the lies of those who claimed to be military heroes when, in fact, they had never served in the military.
Cracking down on this despicable behavior was too easy for Congress to resist. Making a law against lying about your military record is plucking the low-hanging political fruit. After all, who could possibly object?
So in 2006 Congress overwhelmingly approved the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a federal crime to lie about being awarded the Medal of Honor or any other medal.
But the approval of this law put the government in a position to be the de facto truth police. And, as a result, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue. The high court will hear an appeal of the 9th Circuit Court's ruling in the case of Xavier Alvarez.
Alvarez, a member of the water district board in Pomona, Calif., said at a public meeting that he was a retired Marine who had received the Medal of Honor. The fact is he never served in the military. He also claimed, according to the Los Angeles Times, to have "played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings, worked as a police officer, rescued the U.S. ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis and married a Mexican starlet."
In short, this guy is a liar, liar whose pants are most certainly on fire.
Alvarez was indicted and pleaded guilty with the understanding he would challenge the law's constitutionality in his appeal.
"The sad fact is, most people lie about some aspects of their lives from time to time," Judge Milan Smith wrote for the 9th Circuit Court's majority. "Given our historical skepticism of permitting the government to police the line between truth and falsity, and between valuable speech and drivel, we presumptively protect all speech, including false statements."
So here we go.
We would hope the high court follows the same line of thinking.
Those who lie about military valor should be exposed as liars and denounced. If their lies resulted in the loss of other people's money, property or reputation, they should be punished through civil court proceedings.
It is unnecessary to have a law punishing those who lie about their military service.