Former President George W. Bush signed into law the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 on December 20, 2006 with the intention of “enhancing protections relating to the reputation and meaning of the Medal of Honor and other military decorations and awards”. In simpler terms, the act made it illegal to lie about serving in the military and receiving military honors. At a time when many people were out serving their country the act seemed to make sense, however just six years later the legality of the act was tested in the United States Supreme Court case United States v. Alvarez.
In the case, Xavier Alvarez was arrested for violating the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 after introducing himself at a meeting by stating that he was “a retired marine of 25 years and retired in 2001”. He then went on to state that he “was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor” . After cycling through the ninth circuit, certiorari was granted.
After reviewing the case the Supreme Court decided that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was a violation of free speech rights and the decision made against Alvarez in the lower court was reversed.
The decision made in United States v. Alvarez was no doubt a win for Alvarez and free speech rights, however it left many Americans with questions. What about those brave Americans that actually serve in the military and risk their lives to keep others safe? Is It fair that people can impersonate them after all that they do to keep Americans safe, especially during times of war?
Since the Alvarez ruling, many legislators have searched to find ways to amend the Stolen Valor Act in order to answer the thoughts of questioning American citizens. Most recently, Congressman Joe Heck introduced theStolen Valor Act of 2013. Heck’s previous bill was overturned due to similar worries of violating free speech rights.
Undiscouraged from his previous failed attempt Heck stated,
“As long as people are willing to benefit from making false claims about receiving our nation’s highest military honors, I will stand up to defend the honor of the soldiers who have earned the awards and the sanctity of the awards themselves”.
Heck's new bill is much more narrowly tailored then previous bills. The new bill states that
“whoever, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds oneself our to be a recipient of a decoration or medal shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than one year or both”,
making it illegal to lie about being a veteran for ones own personal gains.
Heck is extremely confident about his reforms to the bill, however it has been said that there is only a 15% chance that the bill will actually be passed.
When contemplating this issue it is important to remember that an individual’s free speech rights end where another individual’s begin. Until a balance can be decided upon between how best to honor the members of the armed forces and protect the free speech rights of the average American there is little that can be done.