Weeding Out Phony Warriors
Bragging about military honors you didn't receive is despicable yet still constitutional, says the
The First Amendment does not protect all lying, said the majority opinion by Justice
"Lying was his habit," Kennedy wrote of Alvarez, whose fabrications the justice called "a pathetic attempt to gain respect that eluded him." Alvarez at various times had claimed to have played hockey for the
But when he introduced himself in 2007 at a public meeting in
Yet, loony as Alvarez's behavior sounds, Kennedy wrote, the law was so broad and intrusive that it threatened to do more harm than good to free speech rights. The law failed to take into account whether the lie takes place in public or at home, whether the liar sought some material gain or whether actual harm was done to the reputation of those who had earned the Medal of Honor.
Quite the contrary, Kennedy suggested, the major outrage and ridicule to which Alvarez has been subjected only serves to reinforce the high regard for which most Americans hold such honors. "The facts of this case," he wrote, "indicate that the dynamics of free speech, of counterspeech, of refutation, can overcome the lie."
Critics say the law is not necessary, since existing laws already prohibit lying to commit fraud. Yet, experts and activists like
"The Stolen Valor Act was not about putting grandpa in jail for telling war stories over the dinner table," she said after the court ruling. "All of the cases I have seen are serious and almost always include other criminal activity."
Some have been found by her husband
Sterner has spent the past 15 years trying to produce an easy place to confirm who has won a medal above the level of the Bronze Star and who hasn't -- all the way back to the Civil War. It hasn't been easy, he says, since so many military records are lost, stolen or strayed.
As a result, he not only has found awards that were not earned but also some awardees who had received delayed medals and didn't know it.
So far, his website says it has 104,781 out of an estimated 350,000 awards above the Bronze Star. A complete database could be set up for
That's a task the Pentagon should take on. Compared to other defense spending, that doesn't sound like a lot of money to make sure history remembers our heroes who have earned their honors -- and cleans out the phonies who don't.
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