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Commentary

"It's Lying Time Again"

While channel surfing the TV on a cold rainy morning in Florida recently, I heard a brief news story that said: The City Council of Fort (something) Beach in Florida, passed an ordinance, number 95-26, on ethical behavior. It contained a provision that made lying illegal in their town. One of the councilmen, a man named A. J. Smith, who had vehemently opposed the new law, sued the city and each other member individually for passing it. He contended they were violating his right to free speech. I was even more aghast when the story said that a Federal Court Judge apparently agreed with him because he issued a temporary injunction against enforcement.

It turns out that as a result of the Federal Court decision, the city has rescinded the ordinance. The law suits have been continued however, because the aggrieved party, Mr. Smith, contends that he suffered irreparable damages as a result of the ordinance. And, he says, he wants to teach the other council members a lesson. That's it. That is all there was to the story and I had missed the complete name of the town. I felt angry, incredulous, and wanted to punch A. J. Smith and his lawyer in the nose.

Because I was sitting alongside a lake in our motor home, watching the bobbers on my fishing poles keep from bobbing, I couldn't follow up the story with my customary due diligence. However, the calming affect of fishing finally led me to reluctantly assume that the sew-er, his lawyer, and the judge who agreed with them, are probably not as ridiculous or outrageous as they appeared to be in the brief TV account. Perhaps lying is too ambiguous a term to be legally enforced. Or perhaps political exaggeration was also targeted by the language in the ordinance. In which case Councilman Smith could conceivably have been outlawed by the lying law.

I guess it had never occurred to me before that lying is not already illegal everywhere. It is perjury to lie after you have solemnly swore in court that you won't, and apparently Congress also made it illegal to lie to congress, as that was Ollie North's chargeable sin. But the knowledge that lying anywhere else isn't illegal, and that such a law may violate our right to free speech, certainly rattled my cage that morning. So I got to thinking, which is about all fishing is good for anyway.

Moses came down from the mountain with ten pretty good suggestions that every civilized society since has sought to emulate, and there isn't one among us who doesn't understand the meaning of thou shalt not. So why do we, these thousands of years latter, have so much difficulty understanding the concept of absolutely no, and writing a law that says so.

I gave some serious thought to the most obvious and easy to understand of the commandments: thou shalt not kill. But then quickly realized how many different ways lawyers and legislators have found to temper the tone of that seemingly simple prohibition. Thou shalt not kill now usually depends on to what degree? Did he, or she, pre-meditate about it a while.? When they thought about the dastardly deed, did they rationally comprehend the consequences? If they weren't in their right mind, was it legal insanity or just the rather normal nuts? And how can we define what that is anyway, when Doctors who get into that field seem have rather obvious problems of their own? And finally, are you sure they didn't just man slaughter the man?

In our perhaps laudable desire to try to be fair, we have compromised our principals so often that not only don't we have moral absolutes any longer, we wouldn't recognize one if we saw it. After checking to make sure my fishing bait was still limp and soggy looking, I tried to imagine a way we could write an enforceable law against lying. Thou shalt not bear false witness could conceivably be confused with cosigning a legal document. We would probably have to avoid using that rather offensive word lie altogether, because the First Lady's defenders might be offended. We could perhaps prohibit prevaricating or dissembling, but then, would something like: "that dress looks great on you dear," be against the law? Or what about: "I loved it, that was delicious; hacked off hair looks beautiful on you; I was working late last night; I tried to call, your phone was busy: I actually like your brother; The checks in the mail; Of course I'll still love you in the morning."

With an enforceable law against lying we would have no more Santa Clause; no Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny. And perhaps no more Democrat Party Presidents.

Larry Lick, RHOL

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