Xavier Alvarez was never a Detroit Red Wings player, or married to a Mexican celeb. But he told those lies, along with a third—that he was a former Marine who had received the Congressional Medal of Honor—and was charged with a felony under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. His case now sits at the center of a contentious First Amendment battle, after the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, saying it violated our right to free speech. So, writes Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, can we say whatever we want, "even if it's a lie?"
Not exactly. There are a few instances where it's strictly prohibited: under oath, when applying for government benefits, or in order to defraud someone—in those instances, the government can step in. But where do we draw the line? That's "the ticklish question," writes Paulson for USA Today. "Political campaigns often lie about opponents ... high school reunions can be festivals of embellishment, but there's no need for government intervention." The Alvarez decision may leave a bad taste in our mouth—his is a pretty low-down lie—but, concludes Paulson, "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."