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Friday, July 1, 2022

The Stolen Valor Act Versus Free Speech

     In 2006 congress passed The Stolen Valor Act which made it a crime to falsely claim to have earned medals for service in the U.S. armed services. The law imposed a maximum sentence of $5,000 and six months in prison. In 2007, Xavier Alvarez, a newly elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Claremont, California, introduced himself to his fellow board members as a retired Marine of 25 years who, in 1987, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez never served in the military.

     Following his federal indictment under the Stolen Valor Act, Alvarez pleaded guilty then appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which, in a 2-1 decision struck down the act on the grounds it violated free speech. The U.S. Solicitor appealed this decision and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

     In June 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that The Stolen Valor Act violated the First Amendment right of free speech.

     Unless the questioned lying is under oath or pursuant to theft by deception this behavior should not constitute a crime. If we're prosecuting fake war heroes, what about job applicants who submit phony private sector resumes, people who exploit bogus diploma-mill degrees, and politicians who tout fake backgrounds and nonexistent accomplishments? Where would it end? If we're going to make lying a crime why not prosecute the bureaucrats and politicians who lie to us every day?

     While phony war heroes should be exposed and humiliated, nothing is gained, from a jurisprudence point of view, by sending this particular type of liar to prison. If all despicable behavior is criminalized there will be more people in prison than out. 

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