During my busy day I had a little time to think about the ruling that was just handed down from the U.S. Supreme Court citing that the Stolen Valor Act shall be struck down as being unconstitutional. In the end I came to the determination that the decision, made by our highest court- though sound, is wrong.

The basis of the 6-3 judgment is a sound one based on the oldest laws of the land; the first amendment may indeed have been violated. However, the spirit of the violation is really what was at stake here. As a blogger I am, by default, for our first amendment rights of free speech. On the same note I’m also a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and a former member of the U.S. Army- two of our five military branches; this is where I begin to cringe.

The First Amendment, as read in the Bill of Rights, and interpreted by Cornell Law states (as it pertains to free speech):

The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for the interference with the right of free speech where it attempts to regulate the content of the speech.

If need-be, reread that and pay attention to the second sentence in particular. The words “substantial justification” can be clearly articulated in nearly all the cases involved with bringing charges against individuals under the Stolen Valor Act. I’m kind of confused on how bringing charges against someone isn’t justified if that someone lies about their military services and/or decorations, and there is substantial proof via an individuals military record, or lack thereof?

I’ve heard people tout that people pretending to be military heroes is akin to those who dress up in those costumes at Disneyland; after all it’s just pretend right?


Impersonating a hero of war, or any current or former military member in general, is of the utmost disrespect to the service members of this nation. Those who’ve sacrificed their daily freedom to be part of a military force, and those who’ve died as part of the same forces have an extreme level of pride in what they do (or did) as the case may be. They’ve worked hard to obtain their position, from E-1 to O-10, they’ve all had to work to get to that place in their lives. For someone to simply walk into their local Ranger Joes or Army/Navy store and buy their way into the service is as low as one can be. If you want a Purple Heart join the military, go to war and get one (that’s from my 9 year-old daughter).

The Supreme Court has taken the side of the people, as they are supposed to. But in doing so they’ve alienated those who protect the freedoms of the United States. They’ve allowed the liars, heart-breakers, thieves, and con-artists of the U.S. win. While they win the service men and women of the United States have seen their sacrifices being lessened. If anyone can claim to have a Medal of Honor what’s the point of even being presented with one (No, I don’t really belive this but I’m trying to make a point). I’m grateful for people like those who run This Ain’t Hell for watching out for the rest of us.

Posted by Ryan Erickson in Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy
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  • Impersonating a hero of war, or that of a military member in general, is of the utmost disrespect to the service members of this nation

    People have every right to show disrespect to the members of the military service.

    What they don’t have a right to is accruing either tangible (or, IMHO, intangible) benefits from military service or acts of valor which they didn’t perform.

    LT Rusty will probably be along in a while to argue that most cases can already be tried via existing statutes, in terms of those that receive tangible benefits, as acts of fraud by deception. And that’s mostly true enough.

    My concern is with those who garner the intangible benefits, such as esteem and goodwill, via their unfounded claims. How do we craft the next statute to address that concern without stripping the free speech protections that we signed up to defend?

  • PJN

    “The Supreme Court has taken the side of the people, as they are supposed to. But in doing so they’ve alienated those who protect the freedoms of the United States.”

    Let’s be very clear: Those are the same people. There is not an “us” and a “them” when we’re talking about US citizens.

    “If anyone can claim to have a Medal of Honor what’s the point of even being presented with one”

    By that logic, anyone who earned a MOH should resent anyone who earned one after them; additional awards mean it’s a “more common” award.

    “I’m kind of confused on how bringing charges against someone isn’t justified if that someone lies about their military services and/or decorations, and there is substantial proof via an individuals military record, or lack thereof?”

    Because there is no material harm done: Their name is not placed on the Medal of Honor Roll; they do not receive a monthly pension above and beyond any military pensions or other benefits for which they may be eligible; they do not receive a supplemental uniform allowance; they do not receive special entitlements to air transportation; they do not receive special identification cards and commissary and exchange privileges; they are not granted eligibility for interment at Arlington National Cemetery; their children are not eligible for admission to the United States military academies without regard to the nomination and quota requirements; they do not receive a 10 percent increase in retired pay; they do not receive a Medal of Honor Flag; they do not receive an invitation to all future presidential inaugurations and inaugural balls; they do not receive Medal of Honor vehicle license plates.

    I think this statement from the ruling is worth reading:

    “While the Government’s interest in protecting the integrity of the Medal of Honor is beyond question, the First Amendment requires that there be a direct causal link between the restriction imposed and the injury to be prevented. Here, that link has not been shown. The Government points to no evidence supporting its claim that the public’s general perception of military awards is diluted by false claims such as those made by respondent. And it has not shown, and cannot show, why counterspeech, such as the ridicule respondent received online and in the press, would not suffice to achieve its interest.”


    PJN has it right.

    If an individual received or attempted to receive any material goods or services fraudulently, there are plenty of statutes to prosecute them.

    The first amendment already provides a means of redress for any intangible benefit, namely public ridicule.

    It’s kind of like pointless “hate” crimes laws. Murder is murder, it doesn’t matter why and it isn’t any worse if it was as a result of a hate crime or a result of a psycopathic serial killer.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    I am much more comfortable with an elected government saying “You may” and “You may not”, than one that is increasingly saying “You MUST” (http://xbradtc.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/mandate-without-end/) and “You MUST NOT” (http://dailycaller.com/2012/03/18/holder-in-1995-really-brainwash-people-to-be-anti-gun/)

    However, more teeth in fraud legislation regarding those who publicly misrepresent themselves or their service for political, employment, financial, or benefits purposes is required.

    I don’t care if someone wants to claim he is a Marshal of the Soviet Union. Hell, some of our senior leadership seem to be. But I DO care when they do so as false representatives of Veterans’ interests, or to have their hands out for donations or benefits. Then, they should find themselves as “defendants”.

  • Jay

    Concur with PJN. I view with disdain the clowns who feel the need to embellish themselves this way. Their acts don’t cheapen the awards or uniforms we earned and wear. They just cheapen themselves. Unless they commit fraud or theft by receiving something of value for their charade, I do not support a law prohibiting this behavior, although I understand the emotion behind it. Newspapers, websites, and the like are the effective and proper tools to shame these folks, not prosecution.

  • LT Dan McIlvaine

    I have to agree with the previous posters. In addition to their very salient arguments (no clear tangible harm being done to anyone; fraud laws already cover ill-gotten material benefits), I would like to dispute the thesis that the Supreme Court, or anyone else for that matter, can “diminish the significance of military valor”.

    Valorous acts stand on their own; we recognize them formally to hold up exceptional individuals as exemplars for the rest of the service and as inspirations for the nation, but I have yet to hear a Medal of Honor recipient claim that their actions would have been in any way denigrated had they not received that award. They leave those arguments to others; they acted in the only way they could.

    Advancing the idea that some pathological liar buying fake medals on the internet somehow diminishes the valor of these heroes is more insulting than the act of lying itself. There doesn’t need to be a law when even Mr. Erickson’s nine year old daughter is prepared to heap scorn on these fools.

    Also, to build on PJN’s first point: we should avoid the temptation to set ourselves above the rest of the nation’s citizens. The military does hard work and makes great sacrifices, but we are not the “real America”. There is only one America, and that is what we serve and fight for, even the parts we don’t like.

  • Phil

    As a retired military officer and current law student I spent more time yesterday reading analysis of the Stolen Valor Act opinion than I did the Affordable Care Act. I must say that the comments on this blog are more erudite and reasoned than any I read anywhere. It is good to see others who remember that we took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, not our own individual or collective honor. BZ, my friends.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Thank you, Phil. Which is not to say slimy little pr*cks like BGen McSoulpatch and Captain Bogus in CO don’t deserve to be beaten with a sock full of billiard balls.

    Just sayin’.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Phil, you probably noticed the dicta in yesterday’s majority opinion that suggested the establishment of a national military awards database, something that may prove interested if implemented. Assuming, arguendo, that Congress chooses to take another shot at a better worded piece of legislation, in the meantime we can all resort to a much more immediately effective way of exposes the fakers and frauds: Public shame and humiliation. Once you have clear and convincing proof, then confront the miscreant. Offer them the chance to publicly recant their misrepresentation or you’ll do it for them, loudly and in public the next time they show themselves. It’s up to us to out these people. They’re taking our honor from us. Let’s take it back ourselves.

  • Some great conversation all… I’m glad I’m not the only one with the thought.

  • Dave Schwind

    I’ve enjoyed reading the thoughts in the posts thus far. I have followed this law since it was first proposed in 2005 by Representative Salazar and Senator Conrad, and in my opinion, it has far more unintended negative consequences than positive virtues.

    First, in the realm of the common good, it is clearly a limitation of free speech in that it criminalizes someone for lying. There are laws on the books that do put boundaries on what is considered free speech, of course, but the fact of lying about having earned military awards goes into the “harmless white lie” category. I know that in our circles we hold military decorations in high respect, but for 95% of society, whether or not you earned a Silver Star or a Purple Heart does not hold the same meaning as it does to someone who follows the military or is a veteran. This is not the same as hate speech, defamation, obscenities, etc. that have set, legal boundaries for the benefits of society. If someone lies about having earned military awards, it has no deleterious effect on society, and the frequency of these imposters does not devalue the stature of the awards (if it did, why would they do it?) Thus, you had a law that controlled essentially “harmless” lies, and made these lies a federal crime. If we continue on this road, this law would set a precedent for controlling and criminalizing other portions of our free speech. What would be next? Laws effecting the free discourse of religion or politics? Laws against people claiming “weapons of mass destruction” as a reason to go to war? Laws mandating that only positive sentiments could be said about people in elected office? You can see where I’m going…and it’s not where our country needs to go.

    And this abridgement of our right to free speech and expression is for what reason? So we don’t “disrespect” our veterans, and most specifically, the tiny percentage of veterans who earned awards and decorations of valor? How about forcing thousands of veterans to pay for medical care for injuries received in the line of duty while they wait upwards of two years for compensation and coverage from the Veteran’s Administration? Is that not more egregious and more “disrespecting” to the veterans who served our nation?

    Second, the Stolen Valor Act was a “feel good” law that was passed as part of a defense spending bill when it was originally forwarded for a vote. Of course our elected officials want to protect our veterans – it’s extremely unpopular to do otherwise – and it had support from people like the original poster who didn’t take the time to “check under the hood” to see what harm the law might cause. There is the “law of unintended consequences” and this law had some significant unintended consequences, not just in the realm of free speech. Let’s take a look at some of these unintended consequences.

    In 2007, Senator Conrad and Representative Salazar issued a statement to clarify the intent of their law. The Law of Unintended Consequences had reared its ugly head with the arrests of several 80 and 90 year old veterans who sold their medals…and thus became federal criminals due to the restrictions set in place by the Stolen Valor Act. People hailed the law when it was first enacted because “no one likes a phony” and “we need to protect our veterans”. Great for grandstanding and winning elections, but how about protecting the rights of veterans when they wanted to sell their medals? Whoops! No one saw that one coming down the road, but the law clearly made anyone who sold medals of valor a criminal. So the statement Conrad and Salazar put out to both the House and Senate clarified their intent of the law, e.g. that it was only to prevent people from pretending to be who they weren’t, and not making criminals out of innocent people selling valor awards. But, since this was only an opinion for clarification, and not a law, it had little to no effect, other than helping a few veterans get out of legal binds they had found themselves in by doing something entirely innocent.

    Most people think of the Stolen Valor Act as only protecting the Medal of Honor, yet there was already a law on the books that prevented the open sale of Medals of Honor, though buying them and owning them were still legal. However, the SVA closed the loophole of purchasing and ownership, thus making anyone other than the MOH recipient or their immediate family criminals, eligible for up to one year in prison – for the mere ownership of a MOH that someone had not rightfully earned. Once again, the Law of Unintended Consequences showed up on the scene. Now, only FOREIGNERS can buy, sell, and own Medals of Honor. What??? You mean it would have been legal for Osama Bin Laden to own a MOH, and not a US citizen? Yes, absolutely. If that doesn’t churn your stomach, I don’t know what will. But perhaps I can top that example.

    The SVA made it a federal crime to own a MOH, which means that the FBI could pursue people who owned them, just as they could pursue any federal criminal. You might think that with the threat of terrorism and the number of criminals we have running around this country, the FBI would probably not enforce this law. But they did. How do I know? They came after me. When I was 14 years old, and it was legal to purchase the MOH on the open market. I had one from each of the services in my collection of military uniforms and medals, and eventually I used them for displays memorializing the courage of those who had earned the MOH (for the Navy MOH, I used RADM Gene Fluckey, and had even received approval from him to use one his old uniforms for the display). Fast forward 20+ years, and I was an active duty naval officer, still owning these displays with the now-illegal MOHs. Someone got word of the fact that I owned them and informed the FBI. Before I knew it, I was now being investigated by the FBI; threatened with search warrants, jail time, and more – all because I merely owned three MOHs. Luckily, my lawyer handled the FBI well but in the end I had to turn the medals over – so they could be destroyed by the FBI (I wish I could post photographs on here, as their destruction was documented). In other words, the SVA made me a federal criminal and because MOHs were illegal to own, they had to be destroyed. Does it make any sense to make the ownership of the highest military award in the US illegal for US citizens? And that it would be more important to destroy these illegal medals than to preserve them? Talk about bureaucracy run amok!

    As if that wasn’t sufficient, the SVA made the buying and selling of all military valor awards illegal, expanding this same power beyond the MOH. This meant that anyone who wanted to sell the awards, whether it was the veteran, their families, or some guy at a flea market, a criminal. Thus, the only thing people could legally do with military valor awards was to throw them away. Why not donate them to a museum, you ask? Because many museums are already chock full of similar items and unless there was truly some historical interest in the veteran’s awards, they would likely turn them down (I had a tough time helping a family of an Army Distinguished Service Cross recipient donate his awards to a museum…the interest is simply not there). And, there’s no guarantee the museum won’t discard or deaccession the items down the road, like the National WW2 Museum supplying donated uniforms to a private individual so they could cut them up and make bracelets out of them for their gift shop!

    Before anyone is aghast that their family might not appreciate the trinkets of their military service, think again. I purchased the uniforms of one of the most legendary surface warfare heroes (and Navy Cross recipient) of the second world war from the admiral’s grandson. He was actually going to donate the uniforms to a local theater group so they could cut them up for costumes. Why? Because his grandfather kept everything…he showed me around a 2,000 sq foot basement of his grandfather’s house that was floor-to-ceiling stuff and told me: “What am I ever going to do with all of this stuff?” The SVA would have made him a criminal to have sold his grandfather’s uniforms…so they would have eventually ended up in a landfill when they really should be maintained for the education of future generations of naval officers, which is what I used them for when I taught at the Naval Academy.

    Another thing to note is the SVA did not cover the emblematics of service: SEAL tridents, HALO wings, RANGER tabs and the like. There are no databases existing to list all of the phonies out there, but I would guarantee there are more phony SEALs and RANGERs than there are phony MOH and Navy Cross or Distinguished Service Cross recipients. The government, in their argument to maintain the SVA, claimed it would be impossible to create databases of award recipients so people can verify if someone claiming awards was actually legit. Is it ironic that the Russian Federation, probably one of the more less-technology-savvy governments in the world, has already created a database for recipients of Soviet awards, which are exponentially higher in population than our award recipients? The DoD even claimed in their arguments that a list of MOH recipients would be impossible to create. Strangely, multiple databases listing all MOH recipients exist online, created by private individuals. Not to mention lists of the thousands of recipients of many other valor awards, built by private individuals and apparently something the DoD is incapable of doing (I’m somehow not surprised…) Perhaps instead of making it illegal for 80 and 90 year old veterans to part with their awards and uniforms (remember, owning even the ribbons of valor awards was illegal…) the government should take some of the billions going into pet projects (the DDG-1000 comes to mind) and reinvest a fraction of that into creating a digital database of award recipients based on the awards listed on their discharge paperwork (e.g. DD214 and similar), that despite the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center, exist in one form or another for all veterans?

    Undoubtedly, some other do-gooder Congressman will sponsor yet another bill that will take the place of the SVA (as recommended by the Supreme Court decision) that will again criminalize veterans who want to sell their military awards, and people will be fully behind it and support it blindly all the way because being against it would mean not supporting our veterans, even when we have veterans going bankrupt due to a lack of sufficient medical coverage for their military-acquired injuries – as that is apparently an acceptable way to treat veterans and honor them for their service. It’s a strange, strange world we live in.

  • We still have the most powerful weapon for fighting fraudulent claims, exposure. The court decision emphasized it. This Ain’t Hell and others will still do what they do and the 1st Amendment won’t be compromised.

  • Derrick

    Understandably, it is insulting for people who wear the uniform to have to put up with people who don`t yet take credit for the sacrifices of the armed forces.

    However, I would think it would help to note the fallout that may happen from the striking down of the stolen valor act:

    If unauthorized replications of military credentials are easily attainable, there could be cases where innocent civilians may turn to people wearing such credentials for assistance. Depending on the severity of the issue, then civilians may be exposed to unnecessary danger.

    For example, I may be trapped in a building with Al Qaeda, and in my panic and lack of military experience and training, see someone wearing a fake medal/whatever and ask for assistance. This would be putting me in even more danger.

    Finally, freedom of speech doesn`t equate to fraudulent claims. If fake reproductions are necessary for a movie/opera/whatever, let them be provided for and accounted for by the FBI.

  • Christopher

    I do not live in the United States, but in Germany, and as you may know we have a bit of weird relationhip with our armed forces due to their role in the past, so my opinion might be somewhat skewed by this.

    Anyways, i don’t think i would recognize a single medal or award and/or distinguish it from a real looking fake one.

    Also, it’s okay to sell real looking weapons, ones that even fool people that handle weapons regularly until they get a closer look, so i don’t think there is a law that requires fake medals for costumes etc. to be easily distinguished from real ones.

    Neither here in Germany (surprising, given the fact that we are known for having a rule for everything, which often enough is actually true..), nor in the United States, when it’s even okay to carry real ones without deserving it now.

    So my question at you Derrick is, do you think the average citizien will be able to distinguish a well made fake one from a real one, especially in situations like you described? If not, there is no difference in allowing everyone to wear a real one, people won’t know whether it’s real or not anyways.

    Only if the majority of the people are be able to tell the difference between a real one and a fake one while in a situation like you described, only then it will endanger people.

    And that still would only be the US citiziens, you can’t count on people from other countries to recognize forein medals, especially if they don’t even know their own ones..), and places like airports or big cities, with lots of people from other countries are both likely targets and where you certainly will not know the officers etc., while in a rural area, many people either know the local police offers like they know the postman, or someone they generally know (a relative or friend) is actually police officer or with the military etc.

    Given this, i do think that this decision will not have any impact in a scenario like you described. Forgive me if am wrong and the US differs drastically (though the part with airports etc. would still be true), for despite being able to talk to anyone on the world in an instant, we as humans still know next to nothing about our neighbours, hiding the lack of knowledge behind prejudices and misunderstandings.

  • Derrick

    I’m not sure I understand the comment. I thought my comment stated that people in fear may see a fake medal and approach such individual for help, only to not receive any. If the fake is indistinguishable from the real, then it seems to me there is a higher probability of this occurring?

    Actually, in Canada and the US it is illegal to make real looking fake weapons. That’s why all the water pistols and what not are all fancy flourescent colours and such. I think there was an incident in the past where a kid pointed a real looking fake weapon at a cop, who in self defense, drew his pistol and killed the child. Hence anything that is a fake weapon here in Canada or the US is made to obviously look fake.

    Just my thoughts.