It makes me nervous that the Supreme Court has decided to hear a challenge to the Stolen Valor Act. I am worried that they will uphold it’s constitutionality. The courts should not be in the business of evaluating the nature of lying in non-commercial speech unless it amounts to civil or criminal fraud resulting in direct, quantifiable harm for which we already have laws on the books. The Stolen Valor Act provides as follows:
(b) False Claims About Receipt of Military Decorations or Medals.— Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both. (c) Enhanced Penalty for Offenses Involving Congressional Medal of Honor.—
‘Let’s take a goofy but valid hypothetical:
On any given night in Dallas, Texas there are guys hitting the nightclubs armed with their maxed out credit cards, fake Rolex watches, and persona’s of lies and deceit. Their goal? To get laid. On this particular night we find our 30k millionaire, Trent at the hot club in town telling women among his many pieces of bullshit that he won the Medal Of Honor in Afghanistan. Gilda Goldigger, in addition to being attracted to the fake Rolex on Trent’s wrist, is a sucker for men in uniform. She is a hottie and could have had any douche in the club this night but the Medal of Honor story put her over the top. Trent got lucky that night. The next day, Gilda decides to ask around and do a little research on the new “war-hero” man of her dreams. It turns out that not only is Trent not a Medal of Honor winner, he never served in the military. The worst cut of all is that his Rolex is fake. Gilda however, is no dummy and and wont be suffered the fool. She reads the news. She is aware of the Stolen Valor Act. She gives the local authorities a call. The next day Trent is arrested by the FBI for lying about his Medal Of Honor in violation of The Stolen Valor Act. Trent is now facing a year in federal prison for trying to get laid. Let’s take out the issue of whether Gilda’s chastity is something of value. Gilda recognizes the fake Rolex and shuts him down. Same result. The Stolen Valor Act approaches a strict liability crime on par with threatening the President of the United States. With the normal exceptions for parody, and such, You utter the words and you’ve broken the law. No intent for anything to happen is required.
As despicable as lying about military service and honors is, do we want to penalize this type of nightclub douchery and other pure speech b.s? Speech uttered for no quantifiable financial gain or other criminal purpose. What is the goverment interest to criminalize such speech other than it offends our sensibilities? It presents no danger to society. It defrauds no one in the legal sense. Will we next criminalize false claims of being a 9-11 First Responder? What about denying the Holocaust? As a Jew I find that incredibly offensive. That dreaded slippery slope.
The issue is not whether lying about Military honors is bad. It is. It’s despicable. Shame on anyone who does it. The issue is whether we want to goverment intruding on our ability to open our mouths and speak in the most inane of circumstances with nothing more at stake than our self respect.
I for one, don’t.