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Intentionally lying for political gain ruled protected free speech by federal judge


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(NaturalNews) There is an old expression that goes something like this: "You can always tell when a politician is lying: his/her lips are moving." Well, as we stare down yet another approaching political cycle, most of us expect to be lied to -- a lot -- in the coming weeks.

And just so you know, while you can't commit perjury or fail to deliver on promises contained in a contract, a politician can lie through his teeth to get you to vote for him/her, and that is now protected speech, according to a federal judge.

Even though some states have laws against political fibbing.

One such state is Minnesota; its law prohibits the distribution and solicitation by candidates of campaign literature that intentionally spreads falsehoods and fibs in an attempt to get people to vote for them. But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court recently ruled that that law tramples the First Amendment's free speech protections.

According to a report by Courthouse News Service, Citizens for Quality Education and 281 Care Committee brought the original legal challenge in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. In court papers, they claimed that the law -- the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act -- is a violation of their First Amendment rights, because it ostensibly prevents them from being able to speak freely against school-funding measures that they oppose.

'In the interest of the people'

Courthouse News Service further reported:

The law makes it a misdemeanor to distribute campaign material containing knowingly false statements intended to defeat a ballot question.

Last year, a federal judge ruled in favor of the state, stating that "the ballot provisions in Minn. Stat. 211B.06 reflect a legislative judgment on behalf of Minnesotan citizens to guard against the malicious manipulation of the political process."

"The court finds that the provisions at issue are narrowly tailored to serve this compelling interest," U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery wrote.

However, though the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has now found that the state does have a compelling interest in ensuring "fair and honest" elections and to prevent election and voting fraud, the statute in question was found to be overly broad.

"It is in the political arena where robust discourse must take place," U.S. District Judge Clarence Beam wrote for the three-judge panel. "And although there are certain outright falsities one could envision in the discussion of a proposed ballot question, especially when considering there are hotly debated sides to every issue, it seems that too often in that situation, the 'falsity' deemed by one person actionable under 211B.06 will be a statement of conjecture about the future state of affairs should the ballot question pass or fail."

Now, lying is a First Amendment right

Continuing, Beam ruled, "Despite the certainty of conjecture, however, the state may not prevent others from 'resort[ing] to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been, or are, prominent in church or state, and even to false statement.' Such 'back and forth' is the way of the world in election discourse."

The appeals court concentrated mostly on the burden of the proceedings that are required for candidates and officials to defend themselves against an accusation that they made false statements in election literature, which itself could be limiting to speech.

Also, the appeals panel found that genuine political damage can arise simply through the allegation of false speech, which could ultimately be frivolous, but can nevertheless be filed "at the whim" of any person or group what is willing to make such a complaint under oath.

"The citizenry, not the government, should be the monitor of falseness in the political arena," Beam wrote. "Citizens can digest and question writings or broadcasts in favor or against ballot initiatives just as they are equally poised to weigh counterpoints."

Only in America would a federal court overturn a state law aimed at preventing politicians from lying to us.

Sources:

http://www.courthousenews.com

http://www.courthousenews.com [PDF]

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