Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.
William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1, Act 5, Sc. 4
All these years, I believed the First Amendment protected the right to publish or say anything you like without government interference. And while implicit in that is the “right” to lie, I always believed the First Amendment does not protect one from the consequences of false statements.
Some attorneys believe it does and have argued such in motions in court.
Where was this defense when I was a kid growing up and got caught doing something I shouldn’t?
It seems some would have us accept that the First Amendment is the ultimate shield to bearing any responsibility for their actions. If we accept that lying about anything is a constitutional right, it does not mean immunity from any criminal acts resulting from those lies.
Here’s a hypothetical. Let’s say someone in a position to know tells me my vote was changed. Based on that, I attack the institution named as responsible. Since I believed this person, even if they were lying about it for their own gain, I must be immune from any responsibility.
They had the right to lie, I had the right to accept the delusion and act on it.
To refresh everyone’s concepts of the two major forms of writing or stating false statements, we have these definitions in the English language.
Defamation: the act of defaming; false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another, as by slander or libel; calumny:
Libel: defamation by written, printed, or broadcast words or pictures.
Thus, the government, under most circumstances, cannot stop anyone from writing or saying anything before they publish or proclaim it—there is no prior restraint—with very few exceptions. Let’s say a government official who claims to have Top Secret material and intends to show it to individuals without clearance in locations incapable of providing adequate protections. Some would have us believe this is perfectly acceptable even if they were lying about it.
But there are some practical and ethical limitations here which any mature adult would recognize as reasonable given their positions and experience.
If I were to publish a blog piece saying I intended to launch a nuclear attack on some country, no one would be alarmed or concerned.
If a sitting President were to do the same thing—perfectly lawful in the eyes of some legal counsel and others—it might be more problematic.
If I were to claim the US Government is orchestrating a wide-ranging conspiracy to conceal a child sex trafficking ring from an obscure Pizza Parlor controlled by current and former government officials, most people would believe I had been over-served in a bar, experimented with some mind-altering substances, or just was plain Loonie-tunes. I mean, come on, who would believe it?
If the Attorney General of the United States were to make a similar claim, people would be up in arms demanding an investigation and criminal proceedings. That the Attorney General has a First Amendment right to lie hardly mitigates the damage such a statement, from a person in that position, causes.
And so it is with the current situation we find ourselves in America. The public relations campaign is attempting to find a believable, and lawfully defensible, rationale for claiming the election of 2020 was tainted, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Yet the best they can come up with is a First Amendment right to say or write anything, including lies.
How that mitigates the criminality arising from such lies is beyond comprehension.
Next time some ten-year-old is standing near a broken window and says “Wasn’t me” keep in mind a former President and a significant number of Americans believe he has every right to do so. They conveniently leave out the part that, under the First Amendment, while you may lie about anything and everything, it does not mitigate the truth or the consequences.
Shakespeare said it best.
To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet' (1601) act 1, sc. 3, l. 58
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