Free speech for lies?



So the U.S. Supreme Court seems to have decided when it struck down the Stolen Valor Act

The act reads (in part), “Whoever falsely represents himself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States … shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.” An enhanced penalty is provided for falsely representing oneself as a Medal of Honor winner, which is what Xavier Alvarez did when he introduced himself as a new member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board in Claremont, Calif.

Convicted under the statute, Alvarez appealed, arguing that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was prosecuted for knowingly making a false statement. The plurality opinion (written by Justice Anthony Kennedy) agrees, declaring that the category of exceptions to the First Amendment’s general protection of speech does not include false statements. The supporting citation is to New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), in which it is said that because false statements are inevitable in public debate, they must be protected “if there is to be an open and vigorous expression of views.”

Kennedy also points out that in those instances (perjury, fraud, defamation) in which false statements have been criminalized, the statements are part and parcel of a “legally cognizable harm.” In the case of stolen valor, however, there is, Kennedy avers, no such harm; the statute “targets falsity and nothing more” and therefore could be extended to false statements “made to any person, at any time, in any context,” including “personal whispered conversations within a home.”

Source

The verdict is pretty obnoxious but I can see the point of it. The Act should have included a provision that an offence is committed only when someone gains a significant personal advantage from the lie.

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