Patriots who serve their country in time of war – and plenty of Americans who love them – believe that there’s a special place in hell for people who claim military medals they didn’t earn.
Falsely claiming to be a veteran of valor is an affront to the troops who rightly deserve recognition for the extraordinary courage they exhibited in combat.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 last week that the Stolen Valor Act, passed by a Congress that wanted to protect the honor of real veterans, violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The ruling was a body blow to many military men and women.
It’s a follow-up punch to the hit veterans felt when this same court ruled that the hateful venom spewed by members of the Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals is protected speech – as are nude dancing, flag burning, Ku Klux Klan rallies, Internet threats against abortion providers, “World of Warcraft” online games and Hustler magazine.
The 45 simple words in the First Amendment continue to frustrate Americans who are disturbed by not only the coarsening of society but the notion that there’s no consequence for being caught lying about something as venerated as going into battle on behalf of one’s country.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Penned by James Madison in 1789, the First Amendment’s roots are found in a religious freedom bill written by Thomas Jefferson and proposed to the Virginia Legislature in 1779.
The First Amendment’s protective umbrella often covers ugly, disturbing and even racist comments. Here’s why: Government doesn’t get to pick and choose speech that’s acceptable and punish speech it simply doesn’t like.
That’s why the Supreme Court has struck down state and federal laws banning flag burning done as political speech. Repugnant actions, even involving beloved symbols, can’t easily be made into crimes.
Last week the justices ruled that the Stolen Valor Act was too broad and posed a threat to First Amendment rights by criminalizing speech, even when it was known to be false.
“The First Amendment requires that there be a direct causal link between the restriction imposed and the injury to be prevented,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. “Here, that link has not been shown.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Elena Kagan, left room for Congress to rewrite the act.
Americans who are disgusted by the court’s ruling can be forgiven. As the daughter and wife of military men who went to war, I am enraged by stories of wannabes and their fantasy service records.
Congress’ 2005 effort to protect the integrity of our returning heroes through the Stolen Valor Act was noble, but misguided. At the risk of alienating the affections of men and women who served under the majestic banner of Old Glory that too often has been ignited in protest: The court made the right call.
Lying, unless it’s libelous or can be proved to cause harm – and not just hurt feelings – is still protected speech.