LR26: Lying and Freedom of Speech

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Liberty Revealed Episode 26 Show Summary

Mike talks about how lying affects your freedom of speech. Should you be able to lie and hide behind the First Amendment?

Listen to Liberty Revealed Episode 26

Liberty Revealed Episode 26 Show Notes

Welcome back to another episode of Liberty Revealed, the show dedicated to revealing personal liberty to all who listen. I am your host, Mike Mahony, and today I want to discuss freedom of speech.

Freedom of Speech

As a libertarian, I value the freedoms we are given by the Constitution. One of these is the freedom of speech granted by the First Amendment. Where I personally struggle is with allowing people who tell complete lies to do so under the guise of freedom of speech.

Lying and the First Amendment

On the one hand, I completely grasp that people need to be allowed to speak their minds. I agree that being able to speak up about our government is extremely important. But lying about another person is fraudulent speech. Should fraudulent speech be allowed?

On the surface, the answer seems like it should be a resounding “no!” Why do we have libel laws if it is OK to lie about others? Well, if you are a business owner and a client is going around lying about you, that is not protected speech. You have every right to go after them in court for lying about you. On the other hand, if you are a political candidate, activist, government official or any other type of public figure, you won’t be successful in trying to stop the lies through the legal system. 

It turns out that the Supreme Court has already come up with a decision on this matter. In The New York Times vs. Sullivan (1964) the Court extended First Amendment protection to false statements of fact in a defamation suit.  The Court held such statements, when made about a public official, could not be the basis for awarding damages, at least without evidence that the false statements either were made recklessly or with knowledge of their falsity. 

In Hustler Magazine v Falwell (1988). Hustler magazine had stated that a prominent fundamentalist minister, Jerry Falwell, had drunken sex with his mother in an outhouse.  Although the Court noted that \”false statements of fact are particularly valueless,\” it drew a distinction between false statements not meant or likely to be believed by readers and other false statements of fact.  The Court held that First Amendment prohibited awarding damages for false statements about public figures that cannot reasonably be believed. Satire and parody often involve false statements, and so long as persons would not take the statements to be true, they cannot be the basis for a tort action.

Personal Experience

Based on my own experiences, this tends to make sense. My recent experiences have shaped my opinion on this matter. When someone tells lies about another person, that person has the right to either defend themselves or ignore the lies. The person being lied about needs to rely on the public being smart enough to not believe the statements. While this is risky, it is likely the best scenario. I have found that engaging with liars does no good. Anyone hell-bent on lying about someone will do so regardless of the facts presented. 

If someone is loose and free with the truth, what makes you think to challenge what they say about you will change that? What makes you think they won’t simply make up another lie about you to back up their previous lies?

In my own experience with this issue, the person will throw out false statements. When those statements are challenged, the person then hones in on some of the finer points and creates stories about them that are false. This is a never-ending cycle. Thus, ignoring the person and letting them “speak their mind” is what I feel is the best course of action. It is a roll of the dice, but a necessary one at that. Any other approach will simply encourage the liar to continue lying.

As with most things relating to the liberty movement, it is better to allow freedom than to restrict it erroneously. As the Supreme Court has stated, it is impossible for the state to determine the fine line that sometimes exists between fact and fiction. We do not trust the government to make these kinds of distinctions. We expect the judicial system to step in and define what is OK and what is not OK. 

All of this begins to make sense when you look towards the greater good. While I abhor liars, I value freedom even more than my hatred for liars. This brings up a solid point.

People who speak falsely about others should beware. If they are protected by the First Amendment, any response that is untruthful is also protected by the First Amendment. Perhaps someone being lied about who is unscrupulous will respond in like manner? These are the risks one takes when they lie about someone else. You eventually reap what you sow. One day you will be on the receiving end of this type of treatment. Keep in mind that you can be attacked in the same manner you attacked others.

It is important to note that the First Amendment rights really only extend to comments made about public figures.and limited public figures. Those people have no right to seek restitution even for false comments made against them. The problem is what constitutes a public figure or limited public figure. I feel that this is an area where our system needs a better means of defining the terms used. Right now, if you “thrust yourself into the public” you are considered a “limited public figure” yet you might actually only be supporting a political candidate (as an example).

Nothing makes this case more clear than that of Terry Rakolta. She led a boycott against the show Married With Children. She made television appearances to spread the word. What she quickly found out is that as a limited public figure, people speaking out against her didn’t need to tell the truth. She found out that she had no recourse for the lies spread about her. It is part of the territory she entered into. 

It is a good thing that the First Amendment is carefully protected by the court system. Even the fact that people are allowed to lie about someone is probably a good safeguard in the end. The main objective should be to protect the rights of those who might otherwise be abused by the system itself.

Enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of speech grants all Americans the liberty to criticize the government and speak their minds without fear of being censored or persecuted.

Judges, lawmakers, and scholars continue to struggle with balancing strong speech protections with the necessity of maintaining a peaceful society.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right. It allows society to develop and progress. The ability to express our opinion and speak freely is essential to bring about change in society. Free speech is not only about your ability to speak but the ability to listen to others and allow other views to be heard. Going against people who have different views and challenging them is the best way to move forward.

Tell me your thoughts on this by leaving a voicemail on the Yogi’s Podcast Network hotline at (657) 529-2218.

That’s it for this episode of Liberty Revealed. .If you like what you’ve heard, please rate us 5 stars on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. If you’d like to learn more about personal liberty, grab your free copy of my book “Liberty Revealed” by heading over to Until next time…stay free!

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