Politics

Barr: Let Them Lie

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If you're one of those people who thought Bob Barr was just pretending to be a libertarian to win the Libertarian Party nomination for president in 2008, here's one for ya: Barr defending people's First Amendment right to lie about winning military medals. Excerpt:

In late 2006…former President Bush signed into law piece of legislation that goes far beyond even the extremely broad reach of the federal fraud statutes.  Under this 2006 law, a person in the United States can now be indicted, convicted and sent to jail for simply lying about something — not benefitting from it, not using a lie to take something from someone, but simply for telling a falsehood.  This law has in fact been used dozens of times since Bush signed it into law, despite its obvious First Amendment deficiencies.

Because he'd been mute for so long!

The law carries the misnomer, the "Stolen Valor Act."  Why "stolen valor?"  Because the law criminalizes the mere act of telling someone else that you had been awarded some sort of military medal when in fact you hadn't.  As a zealous federal prosecutor in California opined recently, because the Congress has the authority under the Constitution to raise and support our millitary and to establish regulations for the organization and conduct of our armed forces, Congress can enact criminal laws to protect the "worth and value" of military medals that are authorized by Act of Congress.  Such elitist, overly-broad justification for ever-expanding federal criminal laws, is symptomatic of the over-criminalization of American society that is part and parcel of both the Republican and Democratic parties' agendas (the "Stolen Valor Act" was passed unanimously by the Senate prior to going to Mr. Bush for his signature).

If a person were to engage in a scheme to defraud people out of their money by claiming falsely to be the recipient of a military award, then that person can — and probably should — be prosecuted under existing fraud laws.  But to remove those other important elements of such an offense, and prosecute someone for simply bragging about being a military hero when they in fact aren't, is substituting morality and pique for legitimate exercise of the law to protect against fraud-induced thievery.

Whole thing here. Our cover Q&A with Barr here.