The Stolen Valor Act, signed into law by U.S. President Bush in 2006, was enacted with a conscious effort to deter people from falsely representing having received any U.S. military decoration or medal.
The act granted more authority to Federal law enforcement officers, broadening the law to cover false claims, in order to protect the reputation and meaning of military heroism medals. What this means is that it is 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.”
Dozens of men and women have ignored this law and have been prosecuted accordingly, but a recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court on a California case from 2007 has garnered the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court, and now the rest of America.
Xavier Alvarez was tried and found guilty of violating the 2006 act when he told event planner Melissa Campbell that he was a former Marine and recipient of the Medal of Honor. Unfortunately for him, Ms. Campbell herself was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who had 10 years of service, and knew that he wasn’t telling the truth. Nevertheless, he appealed his conviction, claiming it violated his Constitutional right of free speech.
There are now two opposing views in this ever-growing free speech debate. One side believes that there shouldn’t be a law to “shame” those that lie about their military service, and that no harm is done by doing so. On the contrary, others view these cases as serious breaches of honor within American society.
The argument here is not whether the Constitution should or should not protect false statements, but whether or not lying should be an offense punishable by law. Should we allow those that would misrepresent the U.S. military a free pass on grounds of freedom of speech, or should we, as a country, protect and defend the honor of our nations’ heroes who have selflessly protected and defended our home?
Ms. Campbell eventually suffered from following the letter of the law. After exposing Mr. Alvarez’s medal claim as a hoax, she was reportedly fired. Her company cited “unprofessionalism” as the reason, in regards to approaching Mr. Alvarez during the tour he was taking. The company refused to respond about her departure, citing a policy of not commenting on personnel matters.
Photo thanks to SoulSoap under creative commons license on Flickr.