From February 15th through the 18th James S. Benjamin and Daniel Aaronson were in San Diego, California attending the February meeting of the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association. Daniel Aaronson is currently the Vice-President of this organization which now has close to 200 members nationwide with some of the members responsible for the leading cases throughout the country on First Amendment issues. In July, Mr. Aaronson becomes the President of the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association.
As always the meeting was incredibly informative with subjects being discussed from adverse secondary effects of adult entertainment establishments to legislation involving the pole tax to First Amendment rights through the Internet to government’s ability to curtail First Amendment speech involving students. There was even a presentation done by Gary Edinger of Gainesville, Florida with Daniel Aaronson involving libel, defamation and whether an injunction can be gotten to stop alleged defamation in a written book.
As we have spoken to you on many occasions, these meetings help to instill in all of us who fight for First Amendment and adult freedoms the energy to keep on going. Many times the Court’s turn a blind eye to these rights, but being surrounded by others who are championing the same issues that you are championing makes you realize that you are not alone in this fight. In all organizations, there are a variety of views and the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association is no different. Even though we all stand united in the defense of the First Amendment, it is also good to hear differing opinions on how to pursue that fight along with differing opinions of which part of the fights are worthwhile and are most important.
One of the presentation involved the “Stolen Valor” case. We have written to you before on this issue but to summarize it for those of you who do not remember; these cases involve the constitutionality of the law that makes it a crime to wear medals of honor or to represent that you are a recipient of a medal of honor from the military when one has not been granted to you. In essence, should it be a crime to lie when that lie is not hurting anyone else. Remember, lying is not a crime if there is no harm, i.e. fraud.
Technically, the “Stolen Valor Act” would make it a crime for someone in a move to wear a medal that was not given legitimately. In that same movie an actor talking about the medal that he was awarded would technically be a crime. One might say that is taking the law to the extreme. But rather it is pointing out the flaw in the law. Who and what determines when it is appropriate to make these false statements? And, if the deciding factor is one where it is obvious to all that their statements are not true and are not based in reality then who makes that decision? When a person walks into a bar and says I received the Congressional Medal of Honor and is given a free beer, doesn’t that person have the same right to say it was obvious that I never received that award and therefore that law should not apply to me?
The arguments on this case happened before the United States Supreme Court in February. We certainly will inform you of the outcome when the Supreme Court renders its decision. Until then, this law can be debated both pro and con and by people who respect the First Amendment and who also respect our military men and women.
As mentioned above, there was also discussion about “pole taxes”. These are taxes that some governments have been imposing on patrons that go to strip clubs. Some states have opted for these taxes for revenue generating purposes. However, the legitimacy of using these taxes as revenue generating sources are currently spreading through the courts. The decisions have been mixed as to their constitutionality and as time goes on there will be a clearer picture as to their validity.
It is always difficult for us when we leave these First Amendment Lawyers’ Association meetings. We say good-bye for six months to compatriots and friends. We are also always awed by the intellectual power within our organization. It is safe for us to say that when we leave we always believe that the fight for First Amendment rights and freedoms are in good hands with the most capable people providing for defense of our freedoms.