Veterans groups, congressmen decry ruling on Stolen Valor Act

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comJuly 4, 2012 

Lost in the swirl of news following the U.S. Supreme Court's momentous health care ruling last week was another decision: The court struck down a law making it illegal to lie about receiving military medals.

Some congressmen and members of several veterans groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign War and AMVETS, have sharply criticized the court for its opinion that the Stolen Valor Act violates the First Amendment.

Enacted in 2006, the law made it a federal crime to falsely claim to have received any U.S. military decoration or medal. The misdemeanor was punishable by up to six months in prison or up to one year if the offense involved the military's highest honors, such as the Medal of Honor.

In a 6-3 decision, justices ruled that while lying about military honors and military service was "contemptible," the First Amendment "protects the speech we detest, as well as the speech we embrace," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

Through a spokeswoman, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., whose district includes Beaufort County and its three military installations, called the court's decision "disappointing."

"The brave men and women serving in our armed forces deserve the utmost honor and respect," Caroline Delleney said. "By willingly lying about one's military service, he or she is disrespecting our military personnel."

Delleney said Wilson will seek other legislative avenues to outlaw lying about military service. He is a co-sponsor of bill authored by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., that would make it illegal to seek money or other benefits by claiming military service.

The proposal was referred last year to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, according to congressional records.

Veterans groups also opposed the court's ruling.

"AMVETS maintains that stolen valor causes real harm to our American veterans, and we will continue to fight to protect the integrity of military awards and decorations," AMVETS national commander Gary Fry said in a statement. "The shameful lying by Stolen Valor perpetrators demeans the service of our true heroes, and cannot be accepted as protected speech."

However, a spokesman for the ACLU said the court was right to reject the law.

"Perfectly respectable people sometimes lie to protect their privacy, avoid hurt feelings, make others feel better, duck minor obligations or protect themselves and others from prejudice," Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director, said in a statement. "If the court had endorsed the government's sweeping argument, the government could regulate all of these false statements, and even criminalize them."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft

Related content: The Supreme Court's opinions on the Stolen Valor Act

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