Stolen Valor Act receives scrutiny as arrests increase.

DENVER, CO — The federal courts are wrestling with a…

DENVER, CO — The federal courts are wrestling with a question of both liberty and patriotism: Does the First Amendment right to free speech protect people who lie about being war heroes?

At issue is a three-year-old federal law called the Stolen Valor Act that makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have received a medal from the U.S. military. It is a crime even if the liar makes no effort to profit from his stolen glory.

Attorneys in Colorado and California are challenging the law on behalf of two men charged, saying the First Amendment protects almost all speech that doesn’t hurt someone else. Neither man has been accused by prosecutors of seeking financial gain for himself.

Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School who is not involved in the two cases, said the Stolen Valor Act raises serious constitutional questions because it in effect bans bragging or exaggerating about yourself.
“Half the pickup lines in bars across the country could be criminalized under that concept,” he said.

Craig Missakian, a federal prosecutor in the California case, argued that deliberate lies are not protected. He also said the Constitution gives Congress the authority to raise and support an army, and that includes, by extension, “protecting the worth and value of these medals.”

The Stolen Valor Act revised and toughened a law that forbids anyone to wear a military medal that was not earned. The revised measure sailed through Congress in late 2006, receiving unanimous approval in the Senate.

Dozens of people have been arrested under the law at a time when veterans coming home from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being embraced as heroes. Many of the cases involve men who simply got caught living a lie without profiting from it. Virtually all the impostors were ordered to perform community service.

In one case, a man posing as a Marine war hero was accused of using his hero status to receive discount airline tickets and a free place to stay near Phoenix.

Defense attorneys say the law is problematic in the way it does not require the lie to be part of a scheme for gain. Turley said someone lying about having a medal to profit financially should instead be charged with fraud.

Read the rest of the AP story at lawofficer.com.

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  • Sal Matos

    This trend to regulate everything and anything is disturbing.

    If there is no obvious attempt to profit from thier lying,my philosophy: Let em brag, they’re the one who have to look at them selves in the mirror.
    It always balances out in the end.