Monday, February 14, 2011

Lawyers: Law on lying gives govt. too much power

Attorneys for a Colorado man who falsely claimed to be a decorated war veteran told a federal appeals court this week that a law making such lies illegal gives the government too much power to regulate speech.

Lawyers for Rick Strandlof filed a brief with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday arguing that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional because the government didn't show it had a compelling reason to restrict that kind of speech, even if it is false.

The law makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have been awarded a military medal. It doesn't require that the perpetrator receive any tangible gain or that any victim suffer a tangible loss.

Strandlof was arrested in 2009 after claiming he was a former Marine who was wounded in Iraq and had received the Purple Heart and Silver Star. He founded an organization in Colorado Springs that helped homeless veterans.

Prosecutors have acknowledged the claims were false.

A federal judge in Denver threw the case out in July, agreeing with Strandlof's lawyers that the law violated free speech rights.

The U.S. attorney for Colorado appealed to the 10th Circuit, saying government has at least two compelling reasons for muzzling such falsehoods: protecting the value and integrity of military medals, and keeping the public from becoming suspicious of anyone who claims to have received one.

Strandlof's lawyers' latest brief states, "There is no right to lie."

"But protecting the reputation of an inanimate object or fighting public cynicism hardly seem compelling government interests, not when it means censoring and punishing speech that causes no harm" besides offending the public, the brief says.

The 10th Circuit hasn't indicated when it will rule.

The law has also been challenged in California. That case is before 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

By DAN ELLIOTT, Associated Press


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