It was nearly lost in news reports because all of the focus on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions last Thursday was on Obamacare. But the controversial court decision on telling lies about being a war hero got buried. It wasn’t even mentioned by some of the major media.
The court cited First Amendment free-speech rights in striking down a law that made it a federal crime to falsely claim to have been awarded military medals.
We believe religiously in free speech, free print rights, but to uphold outright lying about being a hero strikes us as too much of a stretch in its interpretation of the First Amendment. But we probably shouldn’t have been too surprised given the far-out decisions past and present by the court.
By a 6-3 vote, the justices upheld a lower court decision that had upheld a ruling that had declared as unconstitutional the Stolen Valor Act, a 2006 statute Congress passed to protect the reputation and meaning of military honors. The case that led to this concerned a water board member in California who was convicted of falsely claiming to be a Medal of Honor recipient.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Permitting the government to declare this speech to be a criminal offense... would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable.” Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissent. He wrote that by striking down the law the court was shielding lies and breaking from precedents that regard false statements as not protected by free-speech rights. “The Stolen Valor Act is a narrow law enacted to address an important problem, and it prevents no threat to freedom of expression,” Justice Alito wrote.
We realize there were media outlets that filed a friend of the court brief contending that the act violates the First Amendment. This newspaper was not among the 20 or so news organizations that were a party to filing that brief.
We agree with Justice Alito. To begin with, the U.S. Supreme Court should not protect liars, especially those who falsely represent themselves as something they aren’t to promote their personal standing, whether it be for a position on a water board or as a candidate for president. To lie about being a hero, and winning the nation’s highest medal for valor, the Medal of Honor, is unlawful in the minds of millions of veterans who served this country. We do not think the writers of our Constitution envisioned in the First Amendment that it implied a meaning to protect liars about their service to this country as a means to promote their self interest, and to give them an unfair advantage in pursuit of personal gain.
Although this was not a consideration in the reasoning of the court, people who lie about their military service to promote themselves in whatever endeavor is disgusting to veterans, especially those whose lives were at risk in combat. For those veterans on the front lines, who witnessed valor, even by themselves, the court ruling is disgusting.
It now is up to Congress to take another look at legislation that could stand the test of a liberal court and address the issue of people lying about military service, and medals claimed to be earned, which could give them an unfair advantage over another person, or organization, in the pursuit of public office, or in a business enterprise. To lie for personal gain is a form of fraud.
The ruling is an insult to veterans and can be harmful to others. We look to Congress and the court to protect us from liars who benefit from their fraudulent acts. In this instance, Congress tried to protect us, but the court let us down.