Congress tries again to ban lying about military awards

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comOctober 2, 2012 

Members of Congress are again trying to make it illegal to lie about receiving military honors, and they believe their new proposal will pass constitutional muster -- unlike a 2006 law struck down this year by the Supreme Court.

By a 410-3 vote, the House of Representatives passed a bill Sept. 14 making it a crime to lie about military decorations with the goal of obtaining money or other benefits, according to Congressional records. Those convicted could spend up to a year in jail, according to the bill.

A similar bill is in the Senate but has not made it to the floor for a vote.

The proposal was introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and was co-sponsored by more than 30 other lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-West Columbia, who said through a spokeswoman that the bill "protects the dignity of our armed forces."

"Individuals who dishonestly claim to have dedicated their lives to ensure the American people's safety for their own personal gain deserve punishment," Wilson spokeswoman Caroline Delleney said. "Their actions constitute criminal fraud, and they should be prosecuted accordingly."

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, also voted for the bill, according to Congressional records. Scott is running for election in a district that will include Beaufort County.

Heck's bill marks Congress' second attempt to outlaw lying about military decorations and service. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act in a 6-3 decision, ruling that it violated First Amendment rights to free speech.

Enacted in 2006, the law made it a federal crime to falsely claim to have received any U.S. military decoration or medal.

While lying about military honors and military service is "contemptible," the First Amendment "protects the speech we detest, as well as the speech we embrace," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court's majority.

Heck said in a statement that the new proposal would hold up to constitutional scrutiny because it "focuses on those who seek to benefit from their misrepresentations of receiving military awards, not the lie itself."

An ACLU spokesman said Heck's proposal, as well as the companion Senate bill introduced by Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., is redundant and still legally problematic.

"Fraud, including fraud respecting the receipt of military decorations, is already illegal under federal and state law, meaning the (bill is) unnecessary," Gabe Rottman, ACLU legislative counsel, said in a statement. "Additionally, by targeting only misrepresentations concerning military decorations, (the bill) is arguably unconstitutional because it discriminates against speech based on its content.

Related content

  1. Veterans groups, congressmen decry ruling on Stolen Valor Act, July 4, 2012
  2. The Supreme Court's opinions on the Stolen Valor Act

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