A few months ago, the Supreme Court shot down the Stolen Valor Act as unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment right to free speech. The rejection of the Stolen Valor Act was a blow to many who believe military awards should never be taken lightly, and should never be used for personal or monetary gain. Unfortunately, many people have done just that – claiming military experience or decorations they had never earned.
The good news is the House of Representatives worked quickly to draft and pass a new version of the law. Within three months of the Supreme Court overturning the Stolen Valor Act, the House drafted and passed a new version of the law designed to work within the ruling of the Supreme Court.
In this new iteration, the House recognizes the importance of the First Amendment and modified the law to make it illegal to claim military awards or decorations for the purpose of claiming payment or other veterans benefits. It would still be legal to make a verbal claim of military service or awards, but it would be illegal to do so for personal or monetary gain. Let’s take a look at the history of the Stolen Valor Act and the details of what it covers.
What is Stolen Valor?
The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was passed by President Bush, and it made it a federal misdemeanor to make false claims about having been awarded a US military medal or decoration. In addition to making it illegal to make false claims of having been awarded decorations, the law made it illegal for unauthorized persons to wear, buy, sell, barter, trade, or manufacture “any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces.” Source.
The law called for up to 6 months in jail for most false claims, and up to one year in jail for claiming to have been awarded the Medal of Honor. There were dozens of jail cases within the first year of the law being passed. One of these cases eventually escalated to the recent Supreme Court case, United States v. Alvarez, which led to a portion of the law being overturned on the grounds of freedom of speech. While it is no longer illegal to claim awards that haven’t been earned, it is still a federal crime to wear medals and decorations which one hasn’t earned, or to manufacture or sell medals without federal authorization.
The New Stolen Valor Act Bridges the Gap
The new version recently passed by the House of Representatives is a good step to protecting the integrity of the military awards system. Our nation was founded on the principal of free speech, and as military members and veterans, we have to respect that right we have worked so hard to defend, regardless of whether we agree with the message being given. And I assure you that I am not alone in saying that the majority of military veterans believe making false claims about military service is reprehensible. It cheapens the memory of those who gave all.
As a veteran, I understand why the Supreme Court ruled in the manner they did. I don’t like it, but I respect the ruling. And as a veteran, I applaud the recent act passed by the House. Here’s hoping this is approved by Congress and the President and soon finds its way into public law.