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Stolen Valor Unconstitutional?

Is the Stolen Valor Act Unconstitutional?

Today, the Supreme Court ruled it is.

The Act, signed into law in  December 2006, made it illegal to falsely claim to be the recipient of military honors and decorations. The court found that the statute violates the First Amendment as it “seeks to control and suppress all false statements on this one subject in almost limitless times and settings without regard to whether the lie was made for the purpose of material gain.”

According to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the First Amendment “protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace.”

Government lawyers argued that lies about military medals are “false statements (that) have no value and hence no 1st Amendment protection.” However, as there is no proof that lying about medals degrades the value and honor of those who have actually earned them, the majority disagreed.

Kennedy did say however, Congress could rewrite the Act “to achieve the government’s objective in less burdensome ways.”

 

The below was originally posted Sept. 16, 2011

Today, a federal appeals court in San Francisco will begin to hear arguements in one of the first cases of prosecution under the Stolen Valor Act.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

On Dec. 20, 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Stolen Valor Act.  The act amended Title 18, United States Code, to enhance protections relating to the reputation and meaning of the Medal of Honor and other military decorations and awards.

It expanded the provisions of existing U.S. laws that addressed the unauthorized wear, manufacture, or sale of military decorations and medals, dating back to 1948. It also made it a federal misdemeanor for someone to falsely represent himself or herself as having received any U.S. military medal or decoration.

Provisions of Stolen Valor:

  • Enhanced penalty for offenses involving the Distinguished-Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star, and Medal of Honor.
  • 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.”
  • Made it illegal for anyone to falsely represent himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any military decoration or medal – punishable by fines or up to six months imprisonment, or both.

The law was upheld in Virginia and recently in North Carolina, when a 68-year-old man was sentenced to 16 months in prison for wearing the uniform of a decorated Marine colonel without authorization, making false statements to federal authorities and defrauding the Department of Veteran Affairs of more than $37,000 in disability payments.

The act however, has been challenged in Colorado and California, where a federal appeals court panel ruled the act unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.

In the Virginia case, U.S. District Judge James P. Jones ruled the Stolen Valor Act does not violate free speech and false statements are a recognized category of unprotected speech.  His position is that the Stolen Valor Act applies to “outright lies” made knowingly with intent to deceive.  Through his ruling, the judge stated “there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact,” referring to a previous case involving defamation (Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974).

The most recent proposed amendment to the Act, however, prohibits the making of law that would abridge the freedom of speech.

From a service member’s perspective there is a significant distance between a citizen’s freedom of speech and misrepresenting whom they are by lying about service to our country – a service that those in the military hold in the highest regard.

In most cases, successful ‘Stolen Valor’ prosecutions were justified because an individual lied about military service and decorations to gain benefits of monetary value, which is fraud.

In the coming months, the potential exists for more stories of stolen valor arise, as some politicians and legislators encourage the Supreme Court to review and reverse the panel’s decision to restore the act.

If perjury is punishable in 17 states, and in many cases lying to police is also a chargeable offense, should lying about military service, awards or decorations receive constitutional protection?

Take our poll and tell us what you think.

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  • ali

    What should you do if you know someone who is putting on job applications and got a job based on the fact that they lied about being in the military when they werent?

  • http://www.facebook.com/cameron.holmes.378 Cameron Holmes

    well wearing a medal in memory isnt impersonating a member of the military, its putting the whole uniform on and then pretending to be one. and my condolences and a Semper Fi to that girl and her Husband.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cameron.holmes.378 Cameron Holmes

    we were at my alumni high school football game during Veterans day this year and there was a “marine” walking around in service charlies with his cover cocked at a 45 degree angle like as if he had seen too many WWII pictures. so naturally i took a closer look at the guy. he had Lance Corporal chevrons and four rows of ribbons, and each row had four ribbons… which is wrong. plus i have never seen such a decorated LC ever. and he was missing his marksmanship badges. so naturally i went up to the guy said “thank you for your service” (just for the irony) and then proceeded to ask him some rudimentary Marine Corps trivia. such as what is the marine corps birthplace and who is chesty puller and so on. the look on his face was priceless. he then immediately left and hopefully i will never see his wannabe ass again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rebeccaharmonymassey Rebecca Harmony Massey

    How would you report if someone is impersonating a Marine? Using photos of actual Marines in Afghanistan.

  • Jaycie

    I was defrauded by a man claiming to be a US Marine. It is a tragedy that people in this world have no code. They have no meaning of the words integrity, honor or respect. I should have asked for his military ID or DD-214 but was naieve and in lust at the time. Big lessons learned! I really hope this act passes.

  • Aries5863

    If it is okay to lie and say you were in the Armed Forces then it should be okay for you to lie to the police and lie to anyone for anything because like the supreme court said its Freedom of Speech…this angers me so much i think if your okay with people Impersonating Soldiers,Sailors,Airmen and Marines then you are an unAmerican coward and do not deserve the Freedoms these Brave Men and Women are dying to protect.

  • JT

    You have a right to lie, just look at the president!

  • USMC89

    That’s different. I believe if your wearing it to represent a love one and you mentioned they shouldn’t be prosecuted. But if your someone who has no ties to the service and you trying to claim money and make up war stories and say you “earned” decorations thats a different story.

  • jerb79

    so does this mean that all Active military can wear any medal they want or even say promote them self. Or hey lets take it further can the people no dress up like police offers or firefighter
    or doctors and etc., couldn’t one say this all falls under the 1st Amendment. then what about slander is that not covered under the 1st Amendment.
    Then what about theft was this act not called the stolen valor act.
    This is truly a sad day for our Military.

  • Dave

    idk who’s the looney leftists because Justice Kennedy (quoted above) is probably the most conservative judge out of the 9, appointed by Ronald Reagan so if u this was just because a few liberal judges it wasn’t it was just because the law is unconstitutional

  • Dave

    Well this is talking about free speech not impersonation thats the difference..But i’m with you some laws are needed the constitution was written almost 250 years ago, just look at gun control, we need less guns…ok j/k but u cant have it both ways if some idiot at a bar tells u he got a congressional medal so u buy him a few drink and turns out he didnt well you call him a dumbass dont lock him u 

  • Dbush1

    Ok if we as military members can be disregarded and the supreme court does not see a problem with falsly portraying themselves as heroes. I guess it should be the same if I want to claim I am say a judge or a lawyer as long as my “lie was made for the purpose of material gain.”

  • Prettywolfeyes2

    How sad that our country makes it possible to claim that a person received military honors when they did not even serve! It IS thievery and cowardice! How dare we cheapen the military honors of those that have earned them by saying that it’s ok to lie about it!!!!

  • Hannibal38

    If this is protected by law to say anything you want, then the Supreme Court should also protect a persons rights in a court room to lie. Food for Supreme Court thought!!!!

  • USMC-SSGT

    Agreed, there should be a low against stolen valor. Just as a person can’t impersonate a police officer or firefighter it should be illegal as well to act as a member of the armed forces. I do think that freedom f speech is extremely important however, there are issues that do arise as such. I am proud of my service as a Marine. It is unfair for others to tarnish the stories and sacrifices we have earned by serving in harms way. This country is falling apart because too many liberals want to challenge things simply for the sake of challenging them. Its time for America to wake up and gain its moral values back. We have forgotten what is sacred.

  • USNCPO

    I spent 22 years in the militar ad earned every medal/ribbon that I was authorizd to wear with blood sweet and tears!!!!

  • Sgt. Dano

    No question about it, if you didn’t serve and didn’t earn itching, you should not legally be allowed to “represent.” Maybe all of us veterans should dress out in police and security guard uniforms and parade into the court house.

  • Rifhrtyty

    So, my Nam generation of judges still want to play that protest the war crap at their age. You sucked then and now your woopie cushon is about to be deflated

  • Bluemeany36

    It is absolutely wrong and should be illegal to impersonate a service member or to wear any award, medal, qualification badge or decoration.  A good point is made by those who comment about family members, but I think the point is holding oneself out to have earned the award.

    Doggie 1SG retired

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nicolei David Nicolei

    10 USC, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 45, Sections 771.

    Section 771 states:
    Except as otherwise provided by law, no person except a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, as the case may be, may wear -
    (1) the uniform, or a distinctive part of the uniform, of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps; or
    (2) a uniform any part of which is similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps

    Why aren’t these judges upholding the law?

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nicolei David Nicolei

    Definition of fraud: “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.”

    If you are trying to make a point, make sure to read and understand your reference before posting. You missed a huge part of the definition of fraud. One little word “or”. Sometimes people need a visual to truely understand why things are worded the way they are, so I’ll help you out here. Definition of fraud: “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit OR to gain some UNFAIR or DISHONEST advantage”. Now, with these key points highlighted you should better understand why your statement was lacking validity. Lying is deceitful. Lying is dishonest. Those statements are indisputable. They are facts. People lie to gain something even if it’s just to gain someone’s trust or favor. So lying is fraud. We’re not talking about the Old South where you had “storytellers” making up stories (lies) to entertain people. We are talking about people committing fraud by misrespresenting themselves as a way to gain status/favor. Look at it as preventive maintenance/medicine. It’s a way to stop fraud before there is a monetary loss. I’ll say it again it does not have to be a monetary gain to be considered fraud by the definition you’ve posted…

    Besides all of this…it’s disrespectful to wear any uniform/medal/ribbon/citation that you aren’t authorized to wear. It belittles those that have earned them. These people aren’t common and their memories should not be trampled on by civilian wannabes.
    I’ve been out of the Corps for 22 years, and it still pisses me off to hear someone claim to be a Marine who isn’t. Some things must be earned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nicolei David Nicolei

    Definition of fraud: “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.”

    If you are trying to make a point, make sure to read and understand your reference before posting. You missed a huge part of the definition of fraud. One little word “or”. Sometimes people need a visual to truely understand why things are worded the way they are, so I’ll help you out here. Definition of fraud: “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit OR to gain some UNFAIR or DISHONEST advantage”. Now, with these key points highlighted you should better understand why your statement was lacking validity. Lying is deceitful. Lying is dishonest. Those statements are indisputable. They are facts. People lie to gain something even if it’s just to gain someone’s trust or favor. So lying is fraud. We’re not talking about the Old South where you had “storytellers” making up stories (lies) to entertain people. We are talking about people committing fraud by misrespresenting themselves as a way to gain status/favor. Look at it as preventive maintenance/medicine. It’s a way to stop fraud before there is a monetary loss. I’ll say it again it does not have to be a monetary gain to be considered fraud by the definition you’ve posted…

    Besides all of this…it’s disrespectful to wear any uniform/medal/ribbon/citation that you aren’t authorized to wear. It belittles those that have earned them. These people aren’t common and their memories should not be trampled on by civilian wannabes.
    I’ve been out of the Corps for 22 years, and it still pisses me off to hear someone claim to be a Marine who isn’t. Some things must be earned.

  • Hernan Ferrea

    One thing is “wearing” it in honor of those who served, another story is to state or say that you “earn” it. If you don’t brag about it and let everybody clear that you didn’t earn it and you use it as rendering honor to the person who earned it I don’t see why not? 

  • Maggot13

     There is a Difference! she is not trotting around saying SHE earned the medal!!

  • Acoloneloftruth

    No “Ex” nor “former” Marines. Marines are either: Active Duty; Reserve; Not in a duty status; Retired; Dead. Colonel, USMC (Ret)

  • Bill_Nelson_az

    93.48% agree that Stolen Valor is a crime regardless of monetary gain. What I can’t figure, is how there can even be 6.5% that are that moronic to think otherwise. I guess those are those are the guys that open an MRE from the wrong side, point the muzzle of their M16 at the PMI, chronically start marching with their left foot, etc.

  • AlphaMikeFoxtrot

    what if its a Child of said Medal Winner wearing it to honor his father or grandfather? should he still be prosecuted? not trying to rebuke you but im honestly interested in the answer. I know a girl who wears her Husbands Purple heart around his neck in memory of his Service and Death in the Marine Core

  • lewwy

    Ok, now on the impersonating the Military personal statement, imagine if you will.
    A police officer has a flash back of a drunk and disorderly service member(lol, yes it does happen) that he had to have some serious back up because of the hand to hand combat experience and the officers respond with extreme force and hurt the fool. Bummer dude, You made yourself out to be bad, your just a bone head who just got wooped is all.

  • Lewy

           I understand your explanation of lying and fraud. my issue with this, is that when someone decides they want to lye to their family and friends, then they think they are getting away with it and join the VFW or another organization because they begin to think that they really are former military personel. When this happens they have now crossed the line with forgery of a federal document (DD214) ect.
            All of this could have been avoided if there was a law saying dont do it you will be prosecuted. Im not possative but when you dress up in a uniform its impersonating a service member.
            I personally know someone who I highly doubt was a Marine and posts on his Facebook page he is. He is dressed in a Marine Uniform and claims he has a DD214. For me to know he is getting away with this makes me ill because I did serve and was discharged honorably. If he ever gets caught, im sure he will serve jail time and if not karma needs to catch up with him.

  • Bob

    Lying is -not- illegal. (most circumstances)
    Fraud -is- illegal.
    Lying is not necessarily fraud.
    Definition of fraud: “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.” ie, some sort of measurable gain, in terms of money, employment, etc. Lying just for shits and grins falls short of the required criteria of fraud

    So…Lying about being a judge, a doctor, a policeman, or a service member is not illegal, because lying is not illegal. And usually very easy to prove as well, showing the liar for the fool they are.  This is within the bounds of protected speech and I have no issue.

    What is illegal is when said liar tries to get up on the bench and make a ruling, or perform a surgery, or arrest some one, or some other act that crosses the boundary from mere lying into actual fraud.

    To date, each case tried under the Stone Valor Act (that I have heard of) has involved actual fraud. IE, defrauding the VA for money, schools for benefits not earned, employers for “veteran preference” on job applications, etc.

    But if a case ever comes up where no fraud was committed, the case should not (imo) go foward. This is one of those things that no matter how much you dislike it, you have to tolerate it if you are going to call yourself a freedom loving America, or else be a hypocrite.

    Controls of speech in all its forms must be narrowly (or should be anyway), very narrowly, defined and be so important to the nation that the alternative is absolutely catastrophic to the nation.

    And some kid just wanting to impress a couple buddies or a girl doesn’t fit that catastrophic criteria. And as mentioned he’s very unlikely to get away with it anyway because we, actual service members, are everywhere.

    ***Now that covers the legal / government side of things.

    As for what we, the actual former service members, do when we catch someone? Well that’s up to each individual person as a private citizen. And your reaction does not have be as carefully controlled as the government’s. Just don’t break any laws yourself in educating the punk when you come across one.

  • Mguns0313

    I would be willing to bet that any circuit court judge would be upset if any Tom, Dick or Harry impersonated themselves as being a judge, so how about making the right choice and don’t dishonor yourself as judges and honor those who served and sacrificed so much for this country.

  • WO

    People tend to forget that they swore (or affirmed) an Oath to the Constitution. To Protect and defend it. Not the physical document, but it’s meaning and intent. Therefore freedom of speech DOES supersede the honor of military service. To believe otherwise should be grounds for removal from military service, since one would be going against his or her oath. HOWEVER, if one were to lie about military service for MONETARY gain, that person should be thrown to the wolves. The constitution guarantees liberty and freedom so long as you exercise these rights without causing harm or deceiving others for monetary gain.

  • Oldemike

    I’ve been out since 98 and still get the chills when I put on my dress blues . I look in the mirror a tear comes to my eye because I am part of the finest fighting force our earth has ever had the privilege of obsorbing our blood we’ve spilled on its soil both foreign and domestic. Never allow this United States Marine Corps uniform be a fraud!

  • Anonymous

    Even better, why cant i put on a black robe and say im a 9th circuit court judge and give my own rulings? its freedom of speech for me to do so right? at least according to them.

  • John

    I received seven DD215′s along with my DD214 , I just wish the records center would have put what was on the DD215′s into the DD214 so I would only have one record. I alone with some other people put out a book last year, my co-writer blue it up, if a person just looked at my DD214 he would not know that I earned the Purple Heart, and other medals.

  • Jlfs

    It has just occurred to me!!!  If these assholes, liars and cheats want to say they were in the military, then let the military arrest them, put them on trial for wearing metals they didn’t earn (that IS illegal in all branches of the military) and then sentence the little fuckers to Leavenworth for a few years.  Bet they never do it again.  Sound good?

  • Holden, D

    Only a lawyer could see this as a freedom of speech issue

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WUCYQ4C73PQQMFWECQ2C7O3N3A caleb

    “do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”

    General Stanley McChrystal got in trouble for exercising his first amendment right while protecting Americans from foreign enemies.

    As long as there is no monetary gain from wearing a uniform or medals I don’t care.

  • http://www.facebook.com/usmcbobj Bob Jankowski

    Semper FI !! ;-)

  • Sgt Smith

    Every uniform and award is protected, it’s just the most prestigious of them that hold steeper penalties. All it takes for a purple heart is to get injured. John Kerry gave himself three of them in ‘Nam. The most prestigious require committees and up to decades to be awarded.

  • Public Servent

    I am a lawenforcement office and a former Marine and I agree with over twenty five years of public service I think its a slam to the Military and Lawenforcement when someone weres the uniform of medals and ribbions that they did not earn. We have lost many Miliary Personnel in  combat/training and this be littles them and any of us who have served. I think the law should be stronger. Semper FI!!!! 

  • Jlfs

    Mu husband, a former Marine, once told me there are no EX Marines, only former ones.  Well, now I can tell him that I found an EX Marine.  You are a embarrassment to the Corp.  My late father was also in the Army and served proudly for 23 years.  I would never want someone to impersonate either one of these brave men or any of the others that served along side them.  If you were met with indifference, it was because you deserved it.  Both my husband and my father served this country proudly and were awarded metals and ribbons for their hard work and their bravery.  Something I’m guessing you missed out on; otherwise you’d feel differently about this.

  • Jlfs

    Almost the best statement yet.