Freedom To Cheat?

Do the laws and constitutional safeguards which guarantee freedom of speech grant a freedom to cheat?  According to a basic principle of common law, freedom of speech ends where cheating begins.

Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, California has falsely claimed amongst other things: “I’m a retired Marine of 25 years.  I retired in the year 2001.  Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor."  That last statement was in direct contravention of the Stolen Valor Act, 2005, a federal law.  Alvarez has challenged that Act as imposing an unconstitutional limit upon freedom of speech.  The matter is to be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Should the constitution protect liars?

Science is about what is, not what ought to be.  A scientific study of relevant laws shows the 'what is' on this particular legal topic: a protection for the general public against snake oil salesmen and the like.

Just as science seeks to find common elements in phenomena, so law seeks to find common elements in reported legal cases.  That is the scientific foundation of common law jurisprudence: common principles found from the study of multiple cases.  The common principles are applied in new cases until such time as the nation's law-making assembly creates new laws.  It is the duty of the judiciary at all levels to follow the common law principles, or precedents, and not to make new laws.

There is a wealth of law both civil and criminal which addresses the problem of the making of false statements.  A general principle of common law regarding false statements - a principle of very wide application - can be derived from an examination of laws and judgments which treat of this topic.  The principle is this: the making of a false statement is considered a wrong in both civil and criminal laws if the intent is to promote the social or economic status of a specific person or persons other than trivially.

There is a world of difference between what may be considered to be mere puffery and what may be considered a statement made to promote a social or economic purpose and which is likely to be accepted as true by any reasonable person.  For example, advertisements for products frequently use relative terms such as 'more' or 'improved', but there is no legal, scientific or logical ground for suggesting that freedom of speech should be curtailed here.  That is because these words are not likely to cause harm.

The concept of harm in law is of very wide application.  In general, for society at large or for a specific person: legal harm results when health, probable lifespan, social status or economic status is damaged.  There is no shortage of case law from all walks of life: an unqualified person claims to be a doctor; a company sells a fluid which is claimed to cure all known diseases; goods sold under a reputable brand are found to be fakes; an applicant for a post as a security guard falsely claims to be a retired police officer; a person seeking enhanced status falsely claims to be a member of a body of meritorious persons such as the judiciary or the legislature.  The list is endless.

False claims are made for many purposes.  The law most commonly intervenes only when there is a legally significant amount of social or economic gain or loss.  A classic intervention of this type is the Tichborne case, where an impostor tried to claim an inheritance.  Anything which the ordinary person would consider to be trifling matter is not a matter for the courts: de minimis non curat lex.  A matter may be trifling as between two parties but may be of much greater importance in the wider scheme of things.

It is a trivial thing if somebody in ordinary conversation claims to have been awarded a medal, diploma, citation or any such mark of merit.  That would be idle boasting.  But any such claim which is reasonably likely to influence others so as to promote - to a non-trivial degree -  the social, economic or trustworthy status of the claimant: such a claim if false seems to fall within the scope of a general principle of common law which sets limits to freedom of speech in every society which seeks to protect its citizens against charlatans:

Freedom of speech ends where cheating begins.

Read more on this story:
Preserving the right to lie
What’s More Common Than Valor?
High court to decide if it's a crime to lie about being a war hero