Stolen Valor Act

10 October 2016

Why can’t we try to deter willful misrepresentations of fact by a modest fine, at least, if they create direct harm to others? Lies to those evaluating your credentials may do direct harm to others. If one lies to gain a job, something which seems to happen with increasing frequency, isn’t it a direct harm to others? Or, how about false representing as having received any credentials for something? The Stolen Valor Act of 2005, signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 20, 2006,[1] was a U. S. law that broadened the provisions of previous U. S. aw addressing the unauthorized wear, manufacture, or sale of any military decorations and medals. The law made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any U. S. military decoration or medal. If convicted, defendants might have been imprisoned for up to six months, unless the decoration lied about is the Medal of Honor, in which case imprisonment could have been up to one year (Wikipedia). I personally don’t have any family members in the military, but I know friends who are in the military and I know they would be highly offended if someone falsely represented themselves to be a member of the military.

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Those men and women who serve our country risk their lives and have put work into whatever credentials they have earned and it is a great disrespect for anyone to falsely give oneself credit for something they have not earned. The purpose of the Act was to strengthen the provisions of federal law by broadening its scope and strengthening penalties. Specific new provisions in the Act included: •granting more authority to federal law enforcement officers; •broadening the law to cover false claims whereas previously an overt act had to be committed; •covering the mailing and shipping of medals; and protecting the reputation and meaning of military heroism medals. The Act made it illegal for unauthorized persons to wear, buy, sell, barter, trade, or manufacture “any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces. ” In the 18 months after the act was enacted, the Chicago Tribune estimated there were twenty prosecutions. The number increased as awareness of the law spread (Wikipedia).

The number of prosecutions continued to increase. Therefore, it was very clear that this was a tremendous issue and that the Stolen Valor Act was serving its purpose. Unfortunately, the majority disagreed saying that there is no proof that lying about medals degrades the value and honor of those who have actually earned those medals. Who could possibly agree to this? Well, government lawyers argued that lies about military medals are false statements that have no value and hence no first Amendment protection.

On Thursday September 13, 2012, the U. S. House of Representatives passed a new version of the Stolen Valor Act. The first version of the Stolen Valor Act was struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of the First Amendment. The bill focuses not on people who lie about having medals they didn’t earn, but on any profits they make from lying about the medals, which is essentially criminal fraud. Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nevada) sponsored the new bill. His office issued a release saying the bill passed by a vote of 410-3.

Heck said in a floor speech that the bill would survive judicial review because it resolves the “constitutional issues by clearly defining that the objective of the law is to target and punish those who misrepresent the alleged service with the intent of profiting personally or financially. ” The bill targets those who falsely claim to have earned certain major military decorations, including the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart or a medal signifying you served in combat (CNNPolitics).

In 2007, there was a case against a man named Xavier Alvarez who was an elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board in Pomona, California. Alvarez said at a public water district board meeting that he was a retired Marine, had been “wounded many times,” and had been “awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor” in 1987(NBCNews). However, he never served in the United States armed forces. Alvarez argued that his false statements were protected by the first Amendment right of free speech.

Regardless, of his freedom of speech or anyone’s, no one should be giving the right to lie about something so serious especially, if it dishonors the men and women who serve for us and our country. I believe that there should be a law protecting military members against people like Alvarez. Unfortunately, the majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society. He also quoted from the famous dissent by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the 1919 Abrams decision: “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market. Some false statements are inevitable if there is to be an open and vigorous expression of views in public and private conversation, expression the First Amendment seeks to guarantee” (NBCNews). Kennedy might have a point, but I strongly disagree and believe it is unethical period.

Moreover, the government shouldn’t allow anyone to make false statements of any kind if it disrespects their country and their people. This act has definitely been a long debate for some of us with reasoned arguments on both sides. In my view it’s unethical and it should have not been struck down by the Supreme Court. Yes, we live in a country with freedom of speech, but this has abused such privilege. So why not punish someone when they’ve abused such privilege?

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