False medal claims: Crime or just lying?

Is lying about military service and claiming to have won a medal a crime or just bragging that is covered by freedom of speech?

That’s a question facing federal courts right now as they struggle to deal with those who lie about being war heroes.

The question tests the validity of the Stolen Valor Act, a law passed by Congress three years ago that makes it a federal crime to falsely claim to have received a medal from the military. Those convicted face up to a year in jail even if they haven’t profited from the lie.

Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School says the law could violate the First Amendment protections of free speech because it, in effect, makes it illegal for someone to brag.

“Half the pickup lines in bars across the country could be criminalized under the concept,” Turley says.

So could the claims of many politicians.

The law sailed through Congress in 2006 and dozens have been arrested over the least three years. Most were simply caught lying and had not tried to profit from the lie. Defense attorneys say the law is questionable because it does not require the lie to be part of any attempt at financial gain. Turley suggests that if someone lies about a medal as part of a profit scheme they should be charged with fraud.

Rick Glen Strandlog claimed he was an ex-Marine wounded in Iraq and said he received the Purple Heart and Silver Star. He started an organization in Colorado Springs that helped homeless veterans.

Military officials said they had no record that he ever served. He has pleaded not guilty, and a judge is considering whether to throw out the charge because Strandlog apparently never profited from the lie.



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