Scarp: You have the freedom to lie — and get caught at it - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Scarp: You have the freedom to lie — and get caught at it

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Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2008 1:19 am | Updated: 11:41 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

We’ve all had it occur to us that there “oughta be a law” about something. But you’d think that beyond a solid gut feeling, another requirement for “oughta” laws is that they should apply to situations that might come up fairly often.

Read Mark Scarp's blog, 'Scarpsdale'

This doesn’t always happen, of course. This year the Arizona Legislature is considering a bill based on one known case. House Bill 2288 passed the House and is now in the Senate.

One of its provisions was written at the request of Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, Deputy Secretary of State Kevin Tyne said Thursday.

Tyne said it is in response to one situation last year where a petition circulator claimed verbally that his petition was about lowering gas prices when it was actually about redistricting.

“It’s about properly educating voters and not being deceived,” Tyne said of HB2288, noting that other states have passed similar laws.

The provision states: “A person who is a circulator of an initiative or referendum petition and who induces any other person in the circulator’s presence to sign the  …  petition by knowingly falsely describing the general subject matter of the measure is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.”

This has that good gut feeling about it. Lying is wrong. It should be against the law, right?

On the witness stand under oath, yes. Out stumping for signatures, no.

The problem with a law against lying is that someone has to enforce it. That is, someone at the Secretary of State’s Office will be the arbiter of what is truth, at a time and place somewhat after the statement was uttered.

Tyne said that his office would consider “hard evidence” in the process.

But the truth of what’s uttered out on the sidewalk in front of City Hall — where there’s no court stenographer to read things back — is going to be a tough thing to figure out. Many statements are made in politics. Some are true, and many are not.

This is hard to admit, but free speech under the First Amendment means the freedom to tell the truth or to lie. In a free society, freely uttered statements are scrutinized in the marketplace of ideas far more quickly and efficiently than they can be by elections officials.

And of course, if you’re persuaded to sign a petition based only on what the circulator says rather than what is actually in the petition — found about 12 inches below your nose — then what is such a law protecting you from?

Is it from the circulator who mesmerized you into signing his petition? Or is it from yourself for failing to read something before you sign it?

And when a politician lies in a TV commercial to tens of thousands of voters at once, that’s not against the law, but one circulator lying to one voter should be? What will the state’s truth squads go after next? Car salespeople?

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