US Supreme Court rules lying about receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor is perfectly legal, even if it’s immoral

The Stolen Valor Act made it a crime for a person to lie about being a valid recipient of any military decoration or medal.  That crime was punishable by up to a year in prison if the offense involved the military’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

This is precisely the medal that Xavier Alvarez lied about receiving.

In 2007 he appeared before the Three Valley Water District and introduced himself this way:

“I’m a retired marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy.”

Mr. Alvarez is a pathological liar.  The United States Supreme Court said so, so I have no problem repeating that fact here.

Lying was his habit. Xavier Alvarez, the respondent here, lied when he said that he played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and that he once married a starlet from Mexico. But when he lied in announcing he held the Con­gressional Medal of Honor, respondent ventured onto new ground; for that lie violates a federal criminal statute, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. 18 U. S. C. §704.

Every word of his statement to the Three Valley Water District was a lie.

He had never been a Marine.  He was never wounded in battle.  He was never awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He was, in fact, disgracing the very brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to defend our precious Rights and Freedoms so he could make himself look good to a bunch of water board bureaucrats.

We’ve all met people who, for reasons beyond most of our comprehension, feel the need to lie about practically every aspect of their lives.  Xavier Alvarez is, according to the Supreme Court of the United States, one of those people.  To quote the SCOTUS decision:

For all the record shows, respondent’s statements were but a pathetic attempt to gain respect that eluded him.

That appears to be the sole reason he lied.  He wanted the bureaucrats to respect him.

Obviously his parents never taught Xavier Alvarez the simple fact that respect is earned.  That’s precisely why we reserve our respect for people who richly deserve it such as those brave heroes who receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.  They’ve earned it.

Mr. Alvarez did not.  The Supreme Court doesn’t care about that.  Xavier Alvarez, and anyone else for that matter, now has a constitutionally protected right to lie about receiving the highest military honor in the land.

How ridiculous.

To quote Tejinder Singh in his article at the US Supreme Court’s blog,

The plurality reasoned that, with only narrow exceptions, content-based restrictions on speech face strict scrutiny, and are therefore almost always unconstitutional. False statements of fact do not fall within one of these exceptions, and so the Stolen Valor Act can survive strict scrutiny only if it is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest.

The Court concluded that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional because the Government had not shown that the statute is necessary to protect the integrity of the system of military honors – the interest the Government had identified in support of the Act.

Mark Alexander, in the June 29, 2012 edition of The Patriot Post Digest, wrote my sentiments perfectly.

Regardless, those who make fraudulent claims to military honors are deserving of our deepest contempt.

Indeed.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) does not restrict the First Amendment to the US Constitution lightly.  Take, for example, the case of Snyder v Phelps, et al.  Fred Phelps is the head of the Westboro Baptist Church which claims to be a Christian church.  (I think most Christians would agree that these bigots and thugs are anything but Christian, but that’s not the point here.)

The members of the Westboro Baptist Church hold loud and obnoxious signs, such as “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers in the face of grieving families.

This disgusting stunt, performed during a family’s most vulnerable time, is utterly reprehensible.  Not only is it plain rude, it’s also intentionally designed to inflict emotional distress upon grieving families.  While it is clearly rude and disgusting, the Supreme Court ruled that it was also Constitutional protected free speech.

In dissenting, US Supreme Court Justice J. Alito wrote:

Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case. Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure. He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right. They first issued a press release and thus turned Matthew’s funeral into a tumultuous media event. They then appeared at the church, approached as closely as they could without trespassing, and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability. As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury.  The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.

 

It’s no big surprise that I support Justice Alito’s position in this case.

Am I wrong?  The Supreme Court of the United States says so.  Protecting Freedom of Speech is no easy task and I do not envy the members of the Supreme Court when they are faced with cases such as these.

There is a difference between speech that offends and speech that must be prohibited.  Not all offensive speech is unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court has ruled in both of these highly contentious cases.

This side trip into the Phelps decision is to show you how seriously the US Supreme Court takes the right to Freedom of Speech.  It is loath to restrict speech, even disgusting and reprehensible speech, lightly.

Maybe they’re right.  I don’t know.   Here in Canada the ruling would have been very different in both cases, I’m sure.  The Canadian Supreme Court routinely upholds decisions criminalizing offensive speech.

I suppose if push comes to shove I’d rather have the highest court in the land err on the side of Free Speech than on censorship, even if that means slime like the Westboro Baptist Church is free to brutalize and offend the families of dead soldiers and an Xavier Alvarez can lie about receiving America’s highest military honor with impunity.

 

3 thoughts on “US Supreme Court rules lying about receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor is perfectly legal, even if it’s immoral

  1. chris,

    i thought i was actually going to have to make a total affront to you on this one until i got to your last paragraph.
    while i agree that xavier’s lies were for his own purposes; some might want to claim the medal of honor WITH THE SPECIFIC INTENT OF DEVALUING THE IDEA OF SERVING A WARFARE STATE.
    this would clearly be protected in the eyes of at least most of the founders.
    and of course, once the government restricted in this case, it is just one more slippery slope till they are the ministry of truth.
    as for the church you mentioned; the actual opinion of the court explained exactly the reason that there is supposed to be free speech… so that popular and unpopular views can meet in the public square to encourage debate, especially views of great import to the public.
    and no one can say that the church in question did not cause the encouragement of debate on whether we should be at war or not; hell the case was all over the news and went to the supreme court; so the VERY REASON for the 1st amendment was EXACTINGLY served in that case, even though it did cause some people some grief… but after all, freedom isnt free, there is a cost.
    and that cost is that we will often be offended if we are shallow and emotional; and sometimes even if we are not.
    and if the families of fallen soldiers have to bear some of the cost when their children volunteer to go and kill foreigners in their own countries; then they have to bear some of the costs, and i say this hailing from a family with a long and wide military tradition, even my little sister was an army officer.
    the fact is, americans have the right to protest loud and in public even if it offends; and this would include lying about war medals in order to diminish them; which is actually the government interest that was claimed by the government. they said that it did indeed diminish them; just as cindy sheehans actions diminish the governments argument for war.
    indeed all of that is true, and yet all of those are specific reasons that our founders passed the 1st amendment; yet congress and the executive never tire of pushing the door a little further closed in the name of “government interest”.
    the only RIGHTFUL and LEGITIMATE government interest is to preserve the liberty of its citizens, anything more is usurpation and tyranny.
    have a good one.

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