'Stolen Valor' law challenged in court

Discussion in 'Academy/Military News' started by Luigi59, Apr 7, 2010.

  1. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    'Stolen Valor' law challenged in court

    by Ron Seman

    Three years ago, the Stolen Valor Act became the law of the land.

    The intent was, as then Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana) said at the time, "to protect the reputation of our military heroes with the full force of law. Those who seek to steal recognition that they have not earned must be held accountable and brought to justice."

    The story appears in the current issue of The American Legion Magazine.

    Unfortunately, that law is under attack from the ACLU and others who say it violates First Amendment protections.

    Three cases moving through the courts will test the law's constitutionality. In California, Xavier Alvarez, a municipal water board member, claimed he was a former Marine with 25 years of service and the Congressional Medal of Honor.

    In Colorado, Rick Strandlof -- aka Rick Duncan -- claimed he was a Naval Academy graduate who served in the Pentagon on 9/11 and as a battalion commander for a Marine unit in Fallujah. He said he was wounded in the battle and received a Silver Star for valor.

    And in Houston, Michael Patrick McManus attended a political function in a general's uniform replete with the Distinguished Service Cross, a Purple Heart, a Silver Star and a Combat Infantryman's Badge with two stars.

    Not one of these men's claims withstood the scrutiny of skeptical veterans who requested discharge papers proving the alleged military honors. Alvarez's case is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Strandlof's case is working its way through the District Court of Colorado, and U.S. attorneys in Houston are preparing a case against McManus.

    The American Legion is posting developments and analyses on its blog, The Burn Pit.

    At issue essentially is whether lies are protected speech. According to a brief filed by the Rutherford Institute, which is backing Strandlof and the ACLU position, "False claims of military distinction do not in any real sense diminish the honor earned and bestowed on those who have truly earned this nation's highest military award."

    The government responded, "To the contrary, 'substantial harm' is indeed caused by false claims of military honors. People who lie about having received military decorations generally do so for a reason. They seek to deceive others for personal gain, and to try to manipulate people's behavior through falsehood."

    Does it ever end?

    For a look at the complete story, visit www.legion.org/burnpit
     
  2. Chockstock

    Chockstock "Forever One Team"

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    I'm not surprised the ACLU would bring this up...how sad
     
  3. MorganC

    MorganC Prospective

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    My school was just involved in a lengthy battle against the ACLU that became national news. I don't understand how they can say that it doesn't diminish the honor of the award. If everyone can walk around wearing a MOH then it wouldn't be such an honor to have it.
     
  4. AF6872

    AF6872 Member

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    That the ACLU has taken up this cause says wonders. First Skokie and now this. Wearing or possessing the MOH is a seperate law. Saying you have recieved one is another. In any case, those purporting to have recievd any decoration not earned are the lowest of the low. Valor Medals are sancrosanct and those using them for personal gain or aggrandizement should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of th law. Heaven Help America:frown: I display mine proudly and each of the eight were earned.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2010
  5. bruno

    bruno Retired Staff Member

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    To a certain extent it is protected speech- fundamentally you get the right to call yourself whatever the heck you want. The fact that I - or you or anyone else personally values their medals doesn't really seem to have much bearing- there are after all a lot of things that I value dearly which I am offended about when they are slighted or mocked - yet those actions are and should remain protected speech. But it seems to me that typically most of these folks find an opportunity to cash in on their fake status which puts it into the category of attempting to defraud. In essence- they are thieves and that's where it seems to me the government ought to be spending its efforts. Exposing, embarrassing, and humiliating these guys seems to be best done by the veterans groups that are dedicating themselves to this now.
     
  6. Eagle 1

    Eagle 1 Member

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    Oh, what the hell. Time for an oldie but a goody.

    Clear & Present Danger - those representing themselves as members of the military who are not, or those who are but are claiming undue recognition and who reap the benefits take away from the resources available to those who have earned such recognition. Additionally, people who claim military stature may intentionally cause public acts that bring disgrace upon the military (or direct harm to human lives), negatively affecting recruitment and fueling terrorist propaganda.

    That's off the top of my head, and admittedly isn't exactly backed with the fine details, but I just decided to broach the subject.
     
  7. vampsoul

    vampsoul Candidate

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    Lying about work experience should be more of a concern to the ACLU. Priorities?
     
  8. TheKnight

    TheKnight Class of 2014

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    It doesn't really reflect on the military if those who have never received any awards/recognition in the military say that they do. After all, eventually people find out they were lying and then the liar looks bad.

    To prosecute the person for telling a lie would be ridiculous (depending on who they tell it to). Speech is protected by the Constitution. To limit it (in any way really) is to go against the Constitution.
     
  9. js3486

    js3486 Parent

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    I concur that the First Amendment protects free speech. But really what does that mean? We have laws that prohibit libel or slander, isn't that free speech too? I tend to believe that authors of our constitution under stood the freedom of speech to be fundamental to our newly founded democracy in that you could free express your opinion with out reproach. this was not the case under the crown. However that being said I do not believe they intended to protect those who would lie for personal gain. In the end that is what we are talking about here.
     
  10. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Knowingly making false statements does not advance the ends for which the freedom of speech was protected, IMO.
     
  11. TheKnight

    TheKnight Class of 2014

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    Personally, I think so. If we're going to have freedom of speech, we should have total freedom of speech. The moment we start deciding who's/what speech is actually free is the moment that we don't have freedom of speech. We have freedom to speak in a certain way. And I'm sure that isn't what the founding fathers intended.

    I would disagree. From what I've studied about the Constitution, the founding fathers gave a lot of freedom to the people with the expectation that the people would not allow themselves to abuse it. Either way, it was a decision left to the people. If you want to abuse your freedom to lie for personal gain, then you may do so, and any consequences incurred will reflect negatively on you. If you want to use your freedom of speech to speak in a way that is kind, polite, and honest, then it will reflect positively on you.

    What I am fairly certain the founding fathers did not want is to have a government that says, "Speak as you like, but if you speak in a way we don't approve of you get jail time."

    My personal view on the Constitution (which I believe to be a great document) is that its authors wrote a document which was great for the people of that time. The character of the people then was able to handle the freedoms they gave.

    People now abuse their freedoms, which is why we're even having a discussion like this.
     
  12. AF6872

    AF6872 Member

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    Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2. Dick's quote.:shake:
     
  13. vampsoul

    vampsoul Candidate

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    They did then, too. Now we just have more media and monetary resources with which to do.
     
  14. SamAca10

    SamAca10 Ensign - DWO

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    Really? :confused: This statement seems a bit contradictory. The law is a PUNISHMENT for doing something wrong. It is the negative consequence for abusing a freedom, which is something that laws are laid down for.

    Actually, if you look at Charles Beard's interpretation, the Constitution was primarily an economic document drafted for the priveledged class of the day (White, male property owners). However, this is if you are reading it in the context that you are referring to it's effects when it was drafted.

    Great for the people of that time? So are you saying that it was great for blacks to be enslaved or for women to not have full equal rights. Think about what you're saying here :wink:

    here's a link on charles beard... http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=2324
     
  15. TheKnight

    TheKnight Class of 2014

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    This is probably true. But I'd imagine that the general lack of character and sense of honor was far less widespread than it is today.

    Eh. I'm personally not a big fan of the whole rights system. I think it subconsciously fosters an attitude of entitlement that is unfavorable. I'm personally a bigger fan of an obligation system.



    The Constitution was not perfect, don't get me wrong. But I think it was/is a good document. There are better systems. Personally, I'm more a fan of a combined legislative/judicial branch and an executive branch with obligations instead of rights (like...Duties of Every Citizen sounds much better to me than Bill of Rights).
     
  16. sprog

    sprog Member

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    No, libel and slander are not covered by the First Amendment. These are two types of defamation, and are torts, meaning they are civil wrongs for which the law provides a remedy. They are not crimes, and would almost exclusively deal with one private party suing another for damages done by the alleged harm. One key misconception that gets thrown out a lot, is that anything you say, to anyone, is protected speech. The Bill of Rights only protects individuals in their interactions with the government. Until the Civil War, it only dealt with the individual and the federal government. Since the late 1860s, the 14th Amendment allows for many protections in dealing with state governments too. Thus, the government cannot prosecute you for voicing an opinion (e.g. printing an article in a newspaper that is inflammatory). That doesn't mean that individuals cannot sue other individuals for the damage done by untrue incendiary words using the torts of defamation, slander and libel (depending on the medium). The Constitution does not apply to any actions solely between private citizens and/or private entities such as corporations (with the exception of the 13th Amendment which prohibits an individual from forcing another into involuntary servitude, i.e. slavery).

    Also, there is really no such thing as an unfettered right when dealing with government. Justice Holmes famously used yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre as something which is not protected, due to the threat to public safety. Another key example is that obscenity is not protected speech and can result in prosecution (the Miller test is used to determine what is/is not obscenity). The Supreme Court is the final say on what is and what is not protected, but they have certainly placed limits on speech over the years, and it is not an unfettered right.
     
  17. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    Correct - you have to prove harm (or damages) from the slander or libel.

    The act of printing (or speaking) the false statement is not enough to be found libelous or slanderous - actual harm must be proved to prevail in court.

    Where the "slippery slope" begins is that the SVA punishes the speech without any subsequent harm (or even fraud) resulting from the lie.

    The lie itself is what is punished under the SVA. Simply stating "I was wounded in the Marines and received the Purple Heart" is enough to prosecute under the SVA - no gains or fraud need be proved, the act of lying about it is the crime.

    I can understand punishing fraud, but when the Govt begins to punish speech, no matter how repugnant or disagreeable we are with what is being spoken, we begin to control thought as well.

    Very dangerous.
     
  18. sprog

    sprog Member

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    Agreed. In order for the First Amendment to function properly, it has to protect speech you like, as well as speech you don't like. This is the issue with the Stolen Valor Act, it's akin to flag burning. I may hate the fact that someone would choose to wear an unearned medal or burn a flag, but it would be unconstitutional for the government to fine or prosecute someone just for doing these activities. I'm all for prosecuting the liar for fraud if he somehow benefits from his lies (say he induces people to give him money because he claims to have a Purple Heart), but the mere act of wearing an unearned medal should not be legislated by the government...even if it makes me angry.
     
  19. bruno

    bruno Retired Staff Member

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    I agree with you completely. Much as I find these clowns abhorrent, I can't see the "Stolen Valor Act" as anything other than a pretty dangerous limitation of free speech that will have implications far beyond what are apparent at first glance. These guys doing this for the purposes of defrauding people is a different story, but I think that a much better avenue of exposing these frauds is thru the Veterans groups that have made this a mission. Negative adverse publicity from citizens groups (ie... humiliate them with publicity) is in the long run what will deter these sad individuals far more than the threat of yet another law- that may also serve as a precedent to deter all kinds of other unintended forms of speech.
     
  20. sprog

    sprog Member

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    Indeed it has for many other types of constitutionally protected, yet morally despicable (at least in my view), forms of speech. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has been great at putting out information discrediting hate-mongers in groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis for many years. The negative publicity the hate groups get from groups like the SPLC is strong enough to minimize any influence they seek to have.

    The "court of public opinion" is the best way to deal with the guys falsely claiming to have earned medals. Hopefully The American Legion or some other private veterans group takes it as their responsibility to discredit those who would wear unearned medals. And truth is an absolute defense to defamation, so the group would not need to fear a law suit (or if they were sued, they would win).
     

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