Saturday, July 7, 2012

Supreme Court Legalizes Deception

On June 28th, The Supreme Court made two historically significant rulings.  Since then, everyone, and their Boston Terrier, has talked about the ObamaCare/tax ruling ad infinitum.  Strangely though, news shows and pundits have glossed over, and then ignored, the second, and  far more jaw dropping, ruling.

*In a 6  to 3 vote, the court struck down the 2006 federal law, "The Stolen Valor Act," which makes it a crime to lie about receiving a military medal.  The ruling overturned the conviction of Xavier Alvarez.  Alvarez, was elected to a California water board in Pomona, and referred himself as a retired Marine who had won the Medal of Honor, the country's highest military award, during a public board meeting.  Not only had he never won the medal, Alvarez had never even served in the military.  Yet, his right to make the false claim was upheld, supposedly, with the First Amendment.

*"The nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace... While statements by a California man falsely claiming he had received the congressional Medal of Honor were contemptible, the right to make those statements was protected by the constitutional guarantee of free speech and expression." Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court's majority opinion.

I'm all for the First Amendment.  It, and other constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, set us apart from many dictatorships around the world. Our founding fathers listed freedom of speech as one of the Constitution's very first protected rights in order to ensure Americans could say WHATEVER WE BELIEVE.

If an American believes a declared war is unjustified, they are free to say so.

If an American believes the federal government is doing Satan's work here on Earth, they are  free to say so.

If an American believes; African Americans are inferior to white folk, gays are pure evil, taxes are unconstitutional, or the Whoopie Pie should be the official state treat of Maine; as egregiously misguided as many of those beliefs may be, the American who believes them is free to say so.  Yet, I can't think of another instance of our protected freedom of speech being used to protect a blatant lie.

Think about it, unless he's claiming to have suffered from severe mental illness, Alvarez couldn't have reasonably BELIEVED he'd served in the Marine Corps and won the Medal of Honor.  He simply lied to promote himself as an elected official.  Typically, lying to promote a person or product is considered to be fraud.

When the court protected the right to lie about having been awarded military decorations, they blurred the lines between what is and isn't fraud.  According to this ruling, can I sell my book as having been written by, Pulitzer Prize winning author James Kiester?  If not, then why can someone lie about a military award, but not a literary award?

Besides making the border between what we can and can't lie about an arbitrary one, this ruling also dishonors legitimate recipients of such medals.

**Cpl. Charles G. Abrell won the Medal of Honor when he voluntarily rushed forward through the assaulting squad which was pinned down by a hail of intense and accurate automatic-weapons fire from a hostile bunker situated on commanding ground. Although previously wounded by enemy hand grenade fragments, he proceeded to carry out a bold, single-handed attack against the bunker.

**Pfc. Harold Christ Agerholm won the Medal of Honor when he immediately volunteered to assist in the efforts to check the hostile attack and evacuate our wounded as the enemy launched a fierce, determined counterattack against our positions and overran a neighboring artillery battalion.

**G/Sgt. Jimmie E. Howard  won the Medal of Honor when late one night a Viet Cong force of estimated battalion size approached the marines' position and launched a vicious attack with small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire. Reacting swiftly and fearlessly in the face of the overwhelming odds, G/Sgt. Howard skillfully organized his small but determined force into a tight perimeter defense and calmly moved from position to position to direct his men's fire. 

**Cpl. James L. Day won the Medal of Honor when he rallied his squad and the remnants of another unit and led them to a critical position forward of the front lines of Sugar Loaf Hill. Soon thereafter, they came under an intense mortar and artillery barrage that was quickly followed by a ferocious ground attack by some forty Japanese soldiers. Despite the loss of one-half of his men, Corporal Day remained at the forefront, shouting encouragement, hurling hand grenades, and directing deadly fire, thereby repelling the determined enemy. 

Despite what one may think about this war having been fought for oil, or that war having been fought to allow the C.I.A. to monopolize the cocaine trade, blah, blah, blah... the fact is that these men, and the other 3,455 other Medal of Honor recipients, risked their lives for their country and fellow soldiers.  For an undeserving person to erroneously lump themselves in with  these soldiers and veterans is unconscionable. 

Let's not ignore winners of other medal either.   Recipients of the USMC Brevet Medal,  Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medals (for each branch of service), Silver Star, Purple Heart, and other military citations all deserve to have their legacy respected and protected from glory seeking imposters and charlatans.  Don't we owe them at least that much?

*Source = Supreme Court strikes down military medal lying law | Reuters
**Source = - Official Website of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society

1 comment:

  1. James, I must respectfully disagree with your analysis of the SCOTUS decision on Alvarez. In the opinion, the Court was specific in it upholding of the intent of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, but as it was broadly written and failed to enumerate specific, tangible harm that the military could not remedy as it had been, and as such, it failed the constitutionality test.

    In order to for a lie to be a non-protected form of speech, under the law, there has to be a tangible harm shown leaving no other means of redress than through the law. In plain speak, if you lie for material/personal gain in any way, as stated in specific laws, then your speech is not protected. The 2005 law did not address this issue of harm and made simply the act of lying illegal and that is unconstitutional.

    Rather than denouncing the Stolen Valor Act entirely, Justice Kennedy acknowledged the "substantial justification" for the law and wrote in his decision that the government should go back and narrow the scope of the law,creating "a statute that requires a showing that the false statement caused specific harm or is focused on lies more likely to be harmful or on contexts where such lies are likely to cause harm."

    Congress did just that and decorated war veteran, Senator James Webb (D-VA) introduced an amendment to the 2013 defense authorizations bill aptly titled "The Stolen Valor Act of 2012" wherein making false statements regarding the receipt of military honors with the end result being tangible personal gain is a crime punishable by law. This now covers lying about military honors to gain employment, run for political office, effecting the outcome of a civil or criminal trial, and other tangible benefits.

    The House version imposes stricter penalties, but does not list examples.

    Congress acted quickly to enact legislation that will address concerns and withstand the constitutionality issues. This was never meant as a slight against our military men and women who have sacrificed their lives in defense of our Constitution and country. This was not a morality issue; this was a legal one and one which was addressed appropriately under the law. The fact that Congress, in both the House and the Senate, has acted so quickly to rectify the law shows their commitment to honor our military and to prevent others from profiting at our heroes' expense.

    The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, and its amendments, was signed into law on January 3, 2013.