The men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country are sometimes called upon to perform amazing feats of heroism. We don’t pay them anything extra for doing this, but occasionally a grateful nation will bestow a medal of valor upon such a hero; and they are allowed to wear them with our thanks and respect.
So, when a phony “hero” comes along and claims a medal for which he is not entitled, veterans and civilians alike view this as a vainglorious insult to everyone who has ever worn a uniform. For this reason, it has always been a court-martial offense for anyone in military service to wear a medal or ribbon he was not officially awarded. And, in 2006, Congress overwhelmingly approved the Stolen Valor Act, making it a crime for anyone—military and civilian alike—to falsely claim receipt of a military honor.
Along comes a minor California politician by the name of Xavier Alvarez. He was indicted by a federal grand jury for giving a speech back in 2007, in which he claimed to be a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration. He pleaded guilty on condition that he be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds, and was sentenced under the Stolen Valor Act to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000.
On Tuesday, the wacky U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued a bizarre ruling, in which they opined that poor Xavier Alvarez had his First Amendment free-speech violated by the government. In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the appeals court said that there was no evidence that Alvarez’s lies ever actually harmed anybody, and that the court could find no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies.
The one dissenting justice on the panel reminded the majority that the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that false statements of fact are not entitled to First Amendment protection. Scores of similar cases have been prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act, with most defendants receiving minor punishment, such as community service. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles told the Associated Press it was deciding whether to appeal Tuesday’s ruling.
Looks like there’s renewed hope that John Kerry will be able to go down in history as a hero of the Viet Nam war.
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