In a unique challenge to the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court will review the Stolen Valor Act, a 2006 federal law aimed at curbing false claims of military valor. The Obama Administration has been particularly strident in pursuing violations of the law, but civil rights advocates say it technically violates free speech rights. Some writers, publishers and media outlets, including the Associated Press, have told the Court they worry the law and Obama’s defense of it could lead to more attempts by the government to regulate speech.
The Court’s ruling will be interesting, especially after last year’s controversial Snyder v. Phelps, in which the justices ruled 8 – 1 that the 1st Amendment covers even hate speech. The Stolen Valor Act attempts to suppress false claims of military service, in part, because of the benefits military veterans receive, such as financial aid and medical care. But, it’s also a response to the increased respect for military personnel and what they endure, especially during times of war. Wearing unearned military medals has been a crime for years, but lying about being decorated for military service was beyond the reach of law enforcement.
The House of Representatives has more than once voted to name a post office after men who claimed awards they never received. The Air Force named an award after a man who falsely claimed to have survived the Bataan Death March and been awarded the Silver Star in World War II. The Boxing Writers of America named its perseverance award after the late Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated because of his made-up tale of surviving a Chinese prisoner of war camp in the Korean War and receiving a Navy Cross.
Pam Sterner, a Colorado woman whose husband, Doug, is a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the genesis for the law when she wrote a paper for her political science course at Colorado State University in Pueblo, CO. The essay had grown out of her husband’s frustration with false claims of heroism. Doug Sterner maintains a database of military citations, including the Medal of Honor, the highest possible award for any military service personnel.
As the son of a Korean War veteran and friend to many other military veterans, I feel the punishment for phony military service claims should be more than public embarrassment. I was upset with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Phelps gang. If stalking someone and slandering their name is covered by the 1st Amendment, then why, for example, should death threats against the President of the United States be exempt? Our military personnel give more than enough of their time and energy. They don’t need some fool with delusions of grandeur trying to earn special favors from society.