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Supreme Court debate: Is lying about being a war hero protected speech?

Supreme Court justices heard arguments over the Stolen Valor Act, which bars lies over receiving military medals, but the discussion broadened into whether there is any value worth protecting in falsehood.

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Members of the US Supreme Court grappled on Wednesday with the difficult task of deciding whether the First Amendment protects a free speech right to claim to be a decorated war hero – even if you aren’t one.

The high court is being asked to determine the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which makes it a federal crime to falsely claim to have received a military medal.

During an hour-long argument, the justices weighed competing claims upholding the necessity of the statute against the dangers to free speech of a government willing to punish its citizens for something that is merely said.

Several justices seemed troubled by the prospect of opening a door to future laws that might ban false speech concerning one’s receipt of a high school diploma or off-the-cuff comments made by a candidate in an election campaign.

Others appeared ready to uphold the statute as a reasonable regulation of a particularly egregious kind of lie undeserving of constitutional protection.

“I believe there is no First Amendment value in falsehood,” Justice Antonin Scalia declared, flatly.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito expressed similar sentiments.


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