The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
3 Points

Lying is Unconstitutional

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/10/2016 Category: Politics
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 578 times Debate No: 96885
Debate Rounds (3)
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Votes (1)




The first amendment to the United States Constitution establishes a right to free speech. You can say what you like no matter how unpopular, inflammatory, offensive or untrue. However, there may be consequences, in the case of slander for instance, if your words have a damaging effect.

Things may be said that, even as a nation, we would rather were left unspoken, but we tolerate such utterances so as not to compromise this important right.

As with many things, with freedom comes responsibility and it is my belief that the responsibility associated with the 1st Amendment is to always speak the truth.
Speech is often inconsequential, at times it may be informative, educational, inspirational, but in the absence of truth it is at best misleading and at worst manipulative.

Free speech is not about words it is about ideas and the truth and when lies are spread the truth is debased.

You can certainly express an opinion or feeling that you believe, that may not be true, as long as you do not try to pass it off as the truth, but lying to advance your cause is unconstitutional.


There is nothing in the constitution that makes lying unconstitutional. Pro focuses on the 1st amendment, which reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment protects the freedom of speech. The 1st amendment does not prohibit specific forms of speech, such as lying.
Debate Round No. 1


I suggest that there are many things not specifically prohibited by the constitution that are, none the less, counter to it in either letter or spirit.
The first amendment would be a trivial matter if all it did was protect words. I suggest that it also protects the thoughts and ideas behind the words. It protects them even if they are misguided, but to protect them if they are lies would be against the intent of the first amendment.
Say party A puts forward a worthy idea and party B counters it with an out-and out lie. Given time to investigate, their audience will discover the truth, but in haste they accept B"s argument and act on it.
A"s argument has been negated, he might as well not have made it. The lie prevented an outcome that free speech should have allowed. The lie negated free speech, defeated the intent of the first amendment and is, therefore, unconstitutional.


Pro's assertion that the 1st amendment doesn't protect lying is irrelevant to whether or not lying is unconstitutional. The 1st amendment doesn't protect a lot of things (e.g. buying gasoline), but that doesn't mean that those things are unconstitutional. For something to be unconstitutional, it must be prohibited to the constitution.

Pro's example of lying in a debate doesn't help him because the 1st amendment does not restrict the actions of private citizens in a debate setting. Rather, the 1st amendment restricts the actions of the government, specifically law-making. ("Congress shall make no law [...]") (Note: The restriction also applies to state legislatures through the due process clause of the 14th amendment per Gitlow v. New York

Debate Round No. 2


I found this: -

1964 Supreme Court Ruling: "The Court extended First Amendment protection to false statements of fact in a defamation suit."

"The Court suggested that, while false statements contribute nothing of value to political discourse, they need protection to allow ""breathing room"" for statements that are true. Without this protection, the Court noted, true statements might not be made either out of a fear that the speaker could be later proven wrong, or that a biased jury might find the statements to be untrue even when they are not."

"While the Court's majority refused to extend protection to deliberate lies, three justices would have gone further and held that public officials and public affairs can be discussed ""with impunity.""
"Justices Black and Douglas argued that the power of government to use any law to impose damages is ""precisely nil."" Justice Goldberg agreed, suggesting that the defense of a public official against ""deliberate misstatements"" was "counterargument and education."

Here: -

Of note are the following: -
1.The Court refused to extend protection to deliberate lies.
2.Less deliberate lies, while still lies, should be tolerated because insisting on the whole truth, all the time, might inhibit discourse and, on balance, result in a less just outcome.
3.The dissenting judges suggested that, in the absence of legal protection, lies could be exposed by counterargument.

At least in this case, it seems that the Supreme Court did consider lying (deliberate lies) to be a form of speech that was not protected under the first amendment.
I would argue that in the case of statements involving less deliberate lies, the elements of the statement that are false are only covered in order to protect those elements that are not false and that the false element remains unconstitutional.
The dissenting Judges were rallying around the idealistic, and rather unrealistic, notion that the "truth will out", even without their assistance.

Lying is almost always morally negative and in many arenas can lead to injustice. The only justification for tolerating it is expediency. As such, although not specifically prohibited by the first amendment, lying is counter to the spirit of the constitution and is therefore unconstitutional.


Pro has cited a webpage discussing 1st amendment jurisprudence with respect to defamatory lies. This does little more than to show than defamatory lies are not protected by the 1st amendment. That defamatory lies are not protected by the 1st amendment is not disputed here. I agree with Pro that those types of lies are not protected by the 1st amendment. However, that does not mean that lying is unconstitutional. My response to this is the same as it was before - Just because an activity is not protected by the constitution doesn't mean that the activity is unconstitutional.

Pro argues that "the false element remains unconstitutional", that "lying is almost always morally negative and in many areas can lead to injustice", and that "lying is counter to the spirit of the constitution and is therefore unconstitutional".

I do not think Pro understands what it means for something to be unconstitutional. For something to be unconstitutional, it must be prohibited by the constitution. See these definitions:

"not allowed or not legal according to the constitution (=set of official rules or principles) of a particular country or organization"

"In violation of the requirements of the constitution of a nation or state."

I'm aware of no definition, and Pro has cited no authority, indicating that "the spirit of the constitution" is what matters. Pro has not supported this claim. It should not be taken seriously, and, beyond that, Pro has not shown that lying per se is contrary to the spirit of the constitution. The constitution appears to be silent on that issue.
Debate Round No. 3
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Vote Placed by dsjpk5 1 year ago
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