The Stolen Valor Act of 2005, signed into law on December 20, 2006 by President George W. Bush, makes it illegal to falsely claim to be a recipient of military awards and medals handed out by Congress to military personnel. A little over three years later, the constitutionality of this Act was challenged.
Rick Strandlof, a Colorado man accused of posing as a Marine Captain and claimed to have received a Silver Star and Purple Heart during the Iraq War, argued that prosecution under the Stolen Valor Act violated his First Amendment right to free speech. A district court judge agreed.
This isn’t the last we’ve heard on this issue as I’m sure the government is gearing up for an appeal. However, it is important to point out that any claims of military honors can be verified by employers by requesting a copy of an applicant’s military records, commonly known as the DD Form 214.
Judge Says Constitution Protects Right to Lie About Purple Heart
By David Kravets, Wired.com – July 19, 2010
A federal judge has declared unconstitutional a little-known law making it a crime to falsely claim to have been awarded a military medal.
A Colorado man who was never in the military was arrested for falsely claiming to have won the Purple Heart and other medals as a Marine in Iraq. He challenged the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which provides penalties up to a year in prison, on grounds it breached the First Amendment.
In the first ruling declaring the measure unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn agreed with defendant Rick Strandlof’s contention. The judge said the government’s defense of the act was “troubling” as well as “contrary, on multiple fronts, to well-established First Amendment doctrine” (.pdf). The Purple Heart is awarded to military personnel wounded or killed in “any action against an enemy of the United States.”
Dozens of defendants have been charged under the statute. The San Francisco–based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing the statute’s constitutionality in a case brought by a man sentenced to 400 hours of community service and fined $5,000.
The government, which is mulling an appeal, argued that the law should be upheld.
“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,” the government wrote.
Judge Blackburn was not buying it.
“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.”
Strandlof told CNN last year that he lied about his record because, among other things, of a “severely underdiagnosed mental illness.”