Laying the Stolen Valor Act to rest

Cheers to the U.S. Supreme Court for shooting down the Stolen Valor Act.

The justices were right. It’s “contemptible” for someone to lie about receiving the Medal of Honor and other military awards, but it’s not a crime. That kind of talk is protected by the First Amendment, which allows freedom of speech and expression, even the offensive stuff.

No question Congress meant well when it passed the law. It wanted to punish fakers to keep the integrity of medals intact. We were in the middle of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and respect for military service was high.

But the scary thing about a law like the 2006 Stolen Valor Act is this: If lying about medals is against the law, what speech will the government try to regulate next?

A story about the high court’s ruling by Jesse J. Holland of The Associated Press quoted B.G. “Jug” Burkett, author of the 1998 book Stolen Valor. Burkett was aghast: “The Medal of Honor! The vast majority of the people who were awarded that were killed in action in the service of their country, and we can’t protect that decoration from disrespect?”

With no disrespect to Burkett — I have his shocking book and I’ve read every one of its 592 pages – I think he’s wrong on this. First of all, someone’s claim to have the Medal of Honor invites skepticism and is easy to check. In fact, anyone’s story that he’s a hero should go through the fact-checking mill.

Second, those heroes who died in the service of their country were upholding one of its key tenets – the freedom of speech that allows bums to brag about battlefield honors they never received.

 

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