Phony claims of heroism…Simply a small lie? Or degradation of the value of those who actually deserve it? The Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act on grounds that false speech, both good and bad, are protected by the First Amendment.
The ruling came after California water board member Xavier Alvarez was prosecuted under the 2006 act for lying about receiving the Medal of Honor.
Retired Airforce Colonel Dave Lewis said he understands that the situation is a sticky one.
“I'll be honest, I am not happy about it, because I would like the Stolen Valor Act to be able to apply some penalties to people that claim to be somebody they are not,” Lewis said. “But the reality is, we put our hand in the air and we swear to defend and support the Constitution of the United States, and that includes the First Amendment, which is the First Amendment free speech right.
A recipient of the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Award for combat action, Lewis said nothing can take away from the recognition he has earned.
“I have served elbow to elbow with some magnificent people who have done some very valorous things,” Lewis said. “We have numerous instances of people here in Lubbock who have done some very valorous things. A lot of them, you can see that publicly through their wounds and other various awards and things like that, but it does not cheapen the awards they received. But it does frustrate those who actually served.”
Former Navy Seal Michael Thornton was recognized last year by the Lubbock Lions Club for his Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Thornton said men like Alvarez are trying to live vicariously through soldiers.
“What I do feel is they want to live a life they never lived and they put it inside their mind and say, ‘Hey, I could have been one of those guys,’” Thornton said. “It’s a problem. You know, honor the men who wear this great medal. Do not try to disgrace it by somebody else wearing it.”
Texas Tech law professor Richard Rosen spent 26 years as an army judge advocate, and says he thinks the government should have prosecuted Alvarez for the act of wearing medals rather than on grounds of speech.
“I understand the concerns of the Veterans groups, but by the same token, he did not lie to mislead people in the sense that he was trying to get any benefit for it,” Rosen said. “He was not applying for a job; he had a job. And when you take everything he said into context, it was obvious that he was not telling the truth.”
Rosen said he agrees with Justice Breyer that punishing those whose lies are shown to be a basis for fraud or personal gain would be a good revision to the law.