LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - Don't confuse fraud with freedom of speech

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I have to agree with letter writers Conetto and Olsen on the Xavier Alvarez case. As I understand it, Alvarez claimed to be a Medal of Honor recipient and utilized this false claim to attain political office and other advantages that otherwise would not have been available to him. This sort of thing has been going on since the War of the Revolution.

The First Amendment was designed to protect political speech but has been expanded to cover freedom of expression in almost all areas. Nonetheless, I have a very difficult time accepting your proposition that it should be expanded even further to protect people who lie about their military service for personal gain.

The First Amendment is not without limits. If I were to yell "fire" in a crowed theater I would probably be changed with reckless endangerment. Why? Because of the potential of injury to others. As Mr. Olsen points out, what Alverez did harms others, namely, those that honorably served.

To me the question is not so much one of freedom of speech and expression, but rather whether Alvarez committed a common law criminal offense, namely, fraud. Though the specific definition of fraud varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one generally accepted definition is wrongful deception intended to result in personal or financial gain to the detriment of others.

Most fraud cases involve persons who cheated others out of money or property. But fraud, as a criminal offense, is not always limited to these situations.

From what I know about the Alvarez case, there is little question but what his lies were advanced for personal and probably financial gain as well. Imposters also rob us of our taxpayer dollars.

As Mr. Olsen points out, legions of phonies are milking the VA system. So make no mistake, there is financial gain involved in many of these cases.

Moreover, liars like Alvarez profane the service of those who served honorably. Their lies, unquestionably for personal gain, diminish the service and heroism of the real thing, namely, those who went to war and, in some cases, made the ultimate sacrifice.

So whether liars like Alvarez are stealing money from the pockets of the taxpayers or simply using their lies to gain an advantage over legitimate opponents in politics or business, they are guilty of fraud and should be punished accordingly.

Stealing is stealing. We should not confuse fraud with freedom of speech. There is a difference between criminal conduct and the legitimate exercise of our civil rights.

Charles B. Phillips

Walla Walla

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