In a Supreme Court ruling surprisingly less reported on, the Court recently ruled to invalidate the Stolen Valor Act. The federal law had been used to prosecute war medal forgery, in an attempt to protect the valor of those brave soldiers who earned the honors the authentic medals bestowed.
“While the Government’s interest in protecting the integrity of the Medal of Honor is beyond question, the First Amendment requires that there be a direct causal link between the restriction imposed and the injury to be prevented. Here, that link has not been shown…”
In the case, the defendant Alvarez had a history of lying about various things, solely for the benefit of gaining the regard of those whom he was speaking to, as opposed to some other benefit.
“ For all the record shows, respondent’s statements were but a pathetic attempt to gain respect that eluded him. The statements do not seem to have been made to secure employment or financial benefits or admission to privileges, reserved for those who had earned the Medal.”
The point of the opinion, then is to prevent against the prohibition of speech on content based grounds. It seems as though much emphasis is given to the fact that defendant Alvarez was not attempting to secure any benefit upon the basis of his lies, other than unearned respect. It begs the question, then, just what the speaker must be attempting to secure in order for the Court to determine that the stolen valor rises to the level befitting of constitutional protection.
While I understand the Court’s desire to strike the proper balance between constitutionally protected free speech and other countervailing rights, it is upsetting to see the Court’s failure to recognize stolen valor can be considered as a sort of inverse of defamation. Rather than defaming a third party, the act of claiming valor that is not due is akin to creating a military falsity that causes harm to the men and women of the armed forces that have in fact earned such honors, or the members of the military in general.
By invalidating the Act, the Court is in effect encouraging people to lie about military honors by having removed any fear of prosecution. While pecuniary gain may not have been at issue in this case, it is certain to be at hand in another case that will pass below the radar because of this ruling.
If I can’t stand individuals falsely claiming to have earned degrees at my undergraduate institution, I can only imagine how deeply this decision cuts members of the military. I have to strongly disagree with SCOTUS’s decision in this case.
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