Stolen Valor Act Challenged in Court

Those who have served and sacrificed for our country deserve special honor and recognition.  One way these sacrifices are recognized is through the awarding of military medals and decorations.  Sadly, sometimes individuals who have not earned these honors falsely pretend to have done so.   In response to this issue, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was passed and became effective in December 2006.  It is a federal offense for individuals to claim verbally or in writing to have received any military award that they have not.  This offense is punishable by a fine and/or up to six months in jail, double if the offense involves valor awards or the Purple Heart. Since the law’s enactment, courts have been prosecuting individuals under this law.

In a recent California case, an individual was prosecuted for falsely claiming to be a Medal of Honor recipient at a public meeting.  He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to community service at a veterans’ hospital.   He appealed his conviction on the grounds that it violated his First Amendment free speech rights. In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The majority found that there was no evidence that the lies harmed anyone, and no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies. The dissenting judge pointed out that Supreme Court precedent indicates that false statements are not entitled to First Amendment protection.  While this case arguably did not involve harm, there have been Stolen Valor prosecutions involving fraud, such as another California case in which a man posed as a military officer and sought donations which he fraudulently claimed were to help wounded veterans. 

For an article on this issue with related links, please see:  www.militarytimes.com/news/2010/08/ap-military-stolen-valor-act-unconstitutional-again-081710/. To see a text of the Stolen Valor law, go to: ftp.resource.org/gpo.gov/laws/109/publ437.109.pdf

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