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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stolen Valor

The attention to the health care case has eclipsed another important decision from the Supreme Court.  The Los Angeles Times reports:
The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the federal Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to falsely claim to have received certain military medals.
In a 6-3 decision, the high court said lying about medals and military service, while "contemptible" and worthy of public outrage and ridicule, is protected by the 1st Amendment.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the 1st Amendment "protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace."
The decision came in the case of Xavier Alvarez, a former member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District governing board in eastern Los Angeles County.
At his first meeting, Alvarez said he was a former Marine and recipient of the Medal of Honor; in fact, he had never served in the military. After being charged, he resigned from the board.
Alvarez's lies "were but a pathetic attempt to gain respect that eluded him," Kennedy said. "The statements do not seem to have been made to secure employment or financial benefits or admission to privileges reserved for those who had earned the medal."
Via AEI:
Justice Alito, writing in a dissent jointed by Justices Scalia and Thomas, disagreed with Kennedy’s assessment:
Only the bravest of the brave are awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, but the Court today holds that every American has a constitutional right to claim to have received this singular award. The Court strikes down the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which was enacted to stem an epidemic of false claims about military decorations. These lies, Congress reasonably concluded, were undermining our country’s system of military honors and inflicting real harm on actual medal recipients and their families.
Building on earlier efforts to protect the military awards system, Congress responded to this problem by crafting a narrow statute that presents no threat to the freedom of speech. The statute reaches only knowingly false statements about hard facts directly within a speaker’s personal knowledge. These lies have no value in and of themselves, and proscribing them does not chill any valuable speech.
Read the rest of ABC’s summary here, and read the Court’s opinion here.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that many veterans disagree:
Alamo's Bill Green, an Army veteran awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for his service during the Vietnam War, has strong feelings about military honors.
As Green sees it, Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated the Stolen Valor Act devalued the sanctity of those medals, which have long been regarded in military circles as currency of character.
"Medals are awarded," Green said Friday. "They're not won. It's not a contest. People who receive them aren't out there trying to win a medal. They're doing their job.
"I understand freedom of speech," said Green, an Alamo resident, "but I do not understand somebody getting away with what (Alvarez) is getting away with. He ought to be happy about one thing -- that I'm not his neighbor."