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Supreme Court makes lying about military service, honors, legal

By Capitol Hill Blue
June 28, 2012

The Supreme Court today made it legal to lie about military service and even to claim winning the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Bragging about exploits that didn’t exist, the court said, is bragging but not illegal.

The court struck down The Stolen Valor Act, passed by Congress in 2005, which made it illegal to claim or wear certain high honor medals from military service.

In 2007, Xavier Alvarez, a member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board in Pomona, CA, said he had been “wounded many times” in combat as a Marine and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1987.

Alvarez in fact never served.  He was arrested under the Stolen Valor Act and pleaded guilty but claimed his statements were protected by the First Amendment right of free speech.  His lawyers argued that the first Amendment protects “exaggerated anecdotes, barroom braggadocio, and cocktail party puffery.”

The high court agreed with Alvarez’s lawyers.  Wannabes are now free to lie about service that never exists and honors they never earned.

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6 Responses to Supreme Court makes lying about military service, honors, legal

  1. Wendy - SJerzGirl

    June 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I’d have to say that the lie may be legal, but I would hope that wearing the medals themselves (however they were obtained) should be as illegal as carrying a policeman’s shield without being a cop.

    • Jim B.

      June 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      Wendy!…I agree!

      I don’t know what causes this behavior…in some ways it seems to go beyond just bragging, because it’s bragging that has much greater consequences…bragging about golf scores or video game levels and even more serious bravado can be laughed off, but bragging about military service that never happened, it’s seems a desecration…it’s a slap in the face to the men and women who give their lives in defense of everyone in this country. I’ve never served, but I think that’s how I’d feel, if I had.

      Congress needs to come up with a law that is worded in such a way to avoid conflict with the First Amendment.

  2. Doc_Holiday

    June 29, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I am an honorably discharged combat veteran, with over three years of my life spent in Iraq. I must say that as much as I don’t care what ill-suited lie the braggarts in the bar happen to spill for wetting their whistles or other anatomical areas. I do take issue in regards to these fakes attempting to use their basement contrived stories to gain employment, fame, higher office, or monetary stipends. It should be in this direction that the new legislation should go and where I think we would have the greatest chance to pass the law.

  3. John W. Farley

    June 30, 2012 at 12:57 am

    When old timers get together and swap war stories, some of the stories they tell are true and some are not true. Some stories are exaggerations. Some stories really happened, but to someone else. And some stories are out-and-out fabrications. I don’t know what fraction of veterans are prone to exaggerate their service records, but maybe veterans are like job seekers, for whom a fairly high fraction of resumes are inflated.

    Recall that Reagan once claimed to have been in the US military unit that liberated Auschwitz. In fact he never left the US.

    It’s OK with me if people who inflate their military exploits are exposed and disgraced. But are we really going to send the exaggerators and fabricators to jail? Think about the realities of enforcing the law, especially on older veterans whose memories are starting to fade.

  4. Doc_Holiday

    July 2, 2012 at 12:56 am

    I think you missed the boat on this issue John. This isn’t about a group of veterans sitting in the VFW trying to one up each other. It’s about a segment of society that is attempting to use the honor that has been earned by our veterans through sweat, blood, tears, and sometimes life itself for their own advantage in employment, elected office, or claims for monetary gain.

    I know that there are times in meeting with buddies that stories have gotten a little out of hand. Those stories are meant to be shared within the fraternity of warriors. I can’t deny that there is a small fraction of veterans who exaggerate their service for employment gains. However, just like any other job seeker, once an employment lie has been discovered that usually means termination for the individual attempting to own it.

    What I truly have issue with and what this article is covering is those individuals that have never served a day in their lives and attempting to con an unsuspecting public for their own personal gains. It is these individuals that the Stolen Valor Act is particularly targeting with criminal charges and why I believe it is so important to have in place. I fully understand the protection of citizens under the first amendment. But when that freedom of speech is used to defraud an unsuspecting society for personal gain that is the crime we are trying to prevent or limit.

    I am sure this law much like the enforcement of any other law laid upon this land will be used only in cases when the accused has been caught in the lie. We don’t catch every criminal out there with the laws we attempt to enforce now. So why should this law be any different?

  5. William Flatt

    July 2, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Perhaps the best ‘punishment’ for wannabes who pretend to be what they’re not … is to put them out there where they can make the sacrifice others have made honestly. We have enough people in prison. Guy wants to make like he’s Rambo or GI Joe? I say put him in uniform.

    That said, I agree that prior restraints on free speech is a slippery slope to be avoided. But…is it free speech or is it impersonation?