Judge Says The First Amendment Protects You If You Lie About Receiving A Purple Heart

from the of-course,-it-only-protects-you-against-lawsuits dept

Does the First Amendment protect your ability to lie? Apparently, to some extent, it does. A court has ruled that a law that makes it a crime (with the potential for a year in prison) for falsely claiming to have been awarded military medals such as the Purple Heart, is an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s okay to lie about getting a Purple Heart. It just means that the government can’t charge you with a crime for that specific act.

While lying about receiving military medals is pretty sleazy, that doesn’t mean that it should automatically be illegal. The government (who is thinking about appealing) makes this bizarre argument:

“By allowing anyone to claim to possess such decorations, could impact the motivation of soldiers to engage in valorous, and extremely dangerous, behavior on the battlefield.”

Really? Because some jackass back home pretends to have won a Purple Heart, real soldiers will be less motivated to perform on the battlefield? If so, that seems to say more about the soldier’s existing motivation. Besides, it seems like even without this law, social mores already limit this kind of activity. If you’re found out lying about military medals, it seems like your reputation would already take a pretty big hit.

Thankfully, the judge in the case found the statement above equally as preposterous:

“This wholly unsubstantiated assertion is, frankly, shocking, and indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor,” the judge ruled. “To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension.”

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Comments on “Judge Says The First Amendment Protects You If You Lie About Receiving A Purple Heart”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait, what?


Seriously though, as an ex military member with 10 purple hearts and a golden earlobe I think it is incredibly distasteful to claim that you have medals that you really don’t have. However, I was trying to say exactly what you said in a less elegant way. That’s just my style.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait, what?

“Right. It can be fraud. Just depends on what you do with it. But this law made it criminal just to say it, even if you were just bragging about it and not trying to commit actual fraud.”

Ah. I see.

Problem is, medals like that are often issued w/o ceremony. So there’s often confusion about what is a valid claim and what is not.

Bob V (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Wait, what?

Any service medal is documented in the personnel record of the recipient. On separation from the military you get a dd-214 which list all awards received. I hadn’t heard of this law before so I don’t know whether I think its good or bad but for official purposes its really simple to verify whether someone is entitled to claim they have been awarded a medal.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Wait, what?

Yeah, but that’s just DoD records. If you were wounded in a battle zone you are entitled to wear a purple heart. If they don’t have a record of your particular battle then it’s a matter of paperwork and bureaucrats.

It’s even more difficult on unit citations, where whether someone is officially part of a unit or not can make a difference, regardless of where they were at the time.

But, even given the official distinctions, the SEALs have dealt with this problem by setting up a vetting website, no reason we couldn’t deal with this the same way.

Dementia (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Wait, what?

While you technically should be entitled to wear a purple heart if wounded in combat, unless, and until, you are actually awarded the medal you can not claim it or wear it. You are correct that these are often awarded with little or no ceremony, but wearing awards which have not been documented in your service record will get you charged under the UCMJ. Like in many fields, if it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen.

Dementia (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Wait, what?

There are situations, as Church points out, especially with unit awards, where an individual may be entitled to an award, but it never gets documented. I’m entitled to a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, but it wasn’t authorized until after I separated. The paperwork I would have to go through to get it added to my DD-214 is more trouble than its worth, so I’ll just be happy knowing I should have it, even if it isn’t listed. After all, that medal and $1 might get me a cup of coffee.

Anonymous Coward says:

exactly, just saying it is one thing, if you try to get anything out of it, good car loan rate, money or take an invitation to speak “about your service” because of your claims, then it should be illegal, then I can see fraud easy

just like it isn’t illegal to claim to be a police officer, only illegal if you do anything while claiming to be one

Anonymous Coward says:

Just a couple of points that may be of some pertinence:

1. Per the opinion, there is a contrary opinion from another federal district court that is awaiting a decision on appeal before the 9th Circuit.

2. Eugene Volokh of UCLA Law School filed an amicus brief supporting neither party, but which ultimately concluded that the statute would likely pass First Amendment muster. I mention this only because he is a highly respected constitutional law scholar, and one who is strongly supportive of First Amendment rights. Even a quick review of his brief (which, uncharacteristically of legal briefs, is brief) reveals that the issue is not as black and white as some may believe to be the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

As much as I agree with the tenor of the final quote above attributed to the judge, I have to wonder if he ever served in the military. While admittedly only a very, very few, I had the dubious distinction of serving with some commissioned officers who did in fact take into account “medal-awarding-possibilities” that would help them pad their FITREPS and future civilian resumes. “Hey, if I fly into DaNang (a safe haven), hit the O Club for Happy Hour, and then return to base at Cubi Point I will get a medal for service in Vietnam. Same goes if I stick my wingtip just a tad over the South China Sea and get a medal for service in Korea.”

Fortunately, these shameful few were overwhelmed by those who served with distinction and without regard to recognition they might receive as a result of their service. The did their jobs admirably and selflessly.

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