Are lies protected free speech?

A libel is an example of a lie and it has never been regarded as protected
Xavier Alvarez stood up at a public meeting and called himself a wounded war veteran who had received the top military award, the Medal of Honor. He was lying about his medal, his wounds and his military service, but he wasn't the first man to invent war exploits.

He was, however, one of the first people prosecuted under a 2006 federal law aimed at curbing false claims of military valor.

Concerns that the law improperly limits speech and turns people into criminals for things they say, rather than do, are at the heart of the Supreme Court's review of his case and the Stolen Valor Act.

Civil liberties groups, writers, publishers and news media outlets, including The Associated Press, have told the justices they worry the law, and especially the administration's defense of it, could lead to more attempts by government to regulate speech.

Alvarez made his claims by way of introducing himself as an elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Pomona, California. There is nothing to suggest that he received anything in exchange or that listeners especially believed him.

Even Alvarez' lawyers acknowledged their client sometimes has trouble telling the truth. But the lies Alvarez told harmed no one, they said, so what he did couldn't be considered fraud.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down the law as an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and said the government might instead invest in an awards database that would make it harder for people to lay claim to medals they never won.

Last month, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the law in a separate case, saying the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech does not always protect false statements.


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