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These words are my diary screaming out loud

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Supreme Court Got It Right (also, I'm not talking about what you think I am)

"The Nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace." - Justice Kennedy, writing in the ruling striking down the Stolen Valor Act
This wasn't one of the topics I had been planning on writing about this week, but I am anyway.

Today, hidden among all the craziness of the health care ruling, the Supreme Court also ruled on the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. Basically, the Act made it a misdemeanor to claim military awards that hadn't actually been received, with extra penalties for the Medal of Honor. That's it - all you had to do was SAY you had gotten them. One such person, who had claimed that he got the Medal of Honor, challenged the law's constitutionality under the First Amendment.

The Court ruled that the law is, in fact, unconstitutional because it is so broad. Basically, it says that just saying you got an award is protected speech. The opinion absolutely agrees that its a lie, and that it is a bad thing to do, and that military awards hold a special significance to the American people, and rightly should. But it also acknowledges that this alone is not enough for it to be constitutional. The Court basically says that there's nothing wrong with publicly berating and calling the person out for lying about it, and that's actually how it SHOULD be dealt with.

While it doesn't directly say so, the Court basically says that using such claims for gain, other than just to "puff himself up," is fraud, and fraud is already illegal, and should be. So had the original respondent, who just SAID he had gotten a medal of honor, actually tried to use it to get VA benefits, or a government contract, or some other special treatment, that would be a different situation. But all he did was say it. Whether or not a law is Constitutional is not the same as whether or not we like it. So a better (and constitutional, it seems) option would be to recraft the law so that it says that it is a crime to claim to have been awarded military awards and then uses those awards in an attempt to gain something (money, special treatment, government contracts, VA benefits, or the like). But that's fraud, which is already a crime, right?

I think the Court got this exactly right, and I absolutely agree with the Opinion's statement that allowing this to go on would open up the slippery slope to allowing laws against all sorts of lying. As much as I absolutely hate people that claim something like the Medal of Honor, which so many people had to die to receive and all of them had to do something truly honorable and extraordinary and, dare I say, even heroic, I can't imagine living in a place where a blatant lie, spoken for the sheer, pathetic purpose of making yourself look better, is illegal. That's just not what our country is about, and not what the First Amendment is for. I'm all about publicly humiliating anyone who makes such claims, and I'm all about prosecuting someone who uses such a claim to try to defraud anyone. But just to make himself look better? Nope. That guy will get his, and I'd rather feel sorry for him and let him get a little humiliation than make it illegal.

What are your thoughts? You can read the whole decision here.

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