The Right to Lie

Speaker: Joan DelFattore

Suitable for Schools · Grades 9–12

In 2016, a federal appeals court struck down an Ohio law that provided penalties for lying during political campaigns. The reason? There is, in fact, a constitutional right to lie. Sure, you can be prosecuted for things like fraud, perjury, and libel, but those are exceptions. In general, constitutional protection for free speech does not depend on whether the speech is true. And when the topic is politics, untruthful speech is not only protected under the First Amendment, but enjoys the highest level of constitutional protection. Why? That’s what this talk is about. For twenty minutes or so, we’ll step back from the fray of partisan politics to take a look at the history and ideas behind our current system. After a brief Q and A, we’ll spend the rest of the program discussing the following questions: Have we, or have we not, reached a point in the history of our country where political lying has so disrupted our electoral system that the public good requires the establishment of legal limits comparable to those placed on perjury? If so, what should such a policy look like, and what unintended consequences might follow?