Jennifer Stephens

Stolen Valor – Lost Honor

By Jennifer Stephens on June 30, 2012 at 5:50 am

In all the very appropriate outrage over the Supreme Court ruling on ObamaCare, another ruling made by the Supreme Court has gotten much less attention – except in military/Veteran circles. And we are disgusted. Not to mention furious. The Supreme Court ruled on the Stolen Valor Act, as well as ObamaCare.

The Stolen Valor Act prohibits a person from falsely claiming that he or she has been awarded a military honor. It was passed by Congress in 2005, signed by President George W Bush, and called for a possible 1 year prison term.

Voting in favor of striking down the Stolen Valor Act were the Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Supporting the law were Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito.

The case the Supreme Court heard involved a man falsely claiming to be a Marine having been awarded the Medal of Honor – the highest of Honors. In Boot Camp we ‘joked’ that to get the Medal of Honor you had to be dead – you had to have sacrificed yourself to save others. It is commonly presented posthumously.

The Medal of Honor is, admittedly, the most extreme example. Many of our heroes live to receive their military awards, rather than having them presented to a grieving family. And they are often left with serious physical injuries, and even more often with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other mental and emotional injuries.

The majority opinion said that, while lying about  medals and military service was “contemptible” and worthy of outrage and ridicule, it was still protected by the 1st Amendment. I think we all agree that the 1st Amendment is important, but let’s look at the specifics of this issue more closely. The majority opinion used the old ‘slippery slope’ argument.

Justice Samuel Alito did not share his colleagues’ concerns about the Stolen Valor Act creating a slippery slope. “The plurality additionally worries that a decision sustaining the Stolen Valor Act might prompt Congress and the state legislatures to enact laws criminalizing lies about ‘an endless list of subjects.’ The plurality apparently fears that we will see laws making it a crime to lie about civilian awards such as college degrees or certificates of achievement in the arts and sports,” Alito wrote in the dissenting opinion – joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Alito concluded that Congress could appropriately distinguish lies about receiving the Medal of Honor from lies about “even the most prestigious civilian awards.”

I agree with Justice Alito. Men and women have given their blood, sanity, and lives to earn those military awards and honors. The same can’t be said of civilian awards such as college degrees or certificates of achievement in the arts and sports. Pretenders (aka: liars) need to pay. How can Justice Kennedy (who wrote the majority opinion) say that it’s “contemptible” and then say it shouldn’t be punished in any way? Shouldn’t we protect the honor of those who earned those awards?

The Supreme Court has previously talked about the free marketplace of idea and the free exchange if ideas. I’m really not sure how people lying about having served in the military or having received military awards and honors in any way contributes to the free exchange of ideas. Fraud isn’t protected by the 1st Amendment, and these lies are fraud. Here’s the dictionary definition.

Fraud – noun

1. deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.
2. a particular instance of such deceit or trickery:
3. any deception, trickery, or humbug:
4. a person who makes deceitful pretenses; sham; poseur.

Those who steal valor are most certainly frauds, and a lot of other words I won’t use here. I suppose the problem is the dictionary definition of fraud versus the legal definition of fraud, where it’s only a crime if you actually ‘gain’ something. For example, if a person got a job by claiming to have served, or having gotten a military honor, they could be fired for lying on the resume, just as if they’d told any other lie. But this isn’t just any other lie.

Alito said, “Legitimate award recipients and their families have expressed the harm they endure when an imposter takes credit for heroic actions that he never performed. One Medal of Honor recipient described the feeling as a ‘slap in the face of veterans who have paid the price and earned their medals.’”

Alito said diluting the effect of military awards “harms the military by hampering its efforts to foster morale and esprit de corps.”

Even the Obama Administration favored the Stolen Valor Act (shocking, but, even a stopped clock is right twice a day…). The Obama administration said that “military awards serve as public symbols of honor and prestige, conveying the nation’s gratitude for acts of valor and sacrifice; and they foster morale… and esprit de corps within the military. False claims to have received military awards undermine the system’s ability to fulfill these purposes,” and “make the public skeptical of all claims to have received awards….”

Let’s use the 1st amendment Freedom of Speech the Supreme Court holds so sacred, to protest this bad ruling, and tell our Congressmen and Senators that we want the law rewritten, and passed again. It was done once, it can be done again.

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