Even disgusting speech protected

The Supreme Court got it right when it ruled lying about military valor, although abhorrent, is protected by the 1st Amendment.


Lying about military service is clearly repugnant. Those who make up accounts about their valor, whether on battlefields or at sea or in the air, are vermin.

Yet, the government in this country cannot use its power to silence its citizens.

This is why the U.S. Supreme Court wisely struck down the 2005 Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to lie about military service. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the court's majority, said the First Amendment "protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace."

The high court, in its 6-3 decision, said lying about medals and military service, while "contemptible" and worthy of outrage and ridicule, is protected by the First Amendment.


Kennedy, in the opinion, went on to say that allowing the government to outlaw certain speech because it is based on false statements would invite a Ministry of Truth as written about by George Orwell in his novel "1984" about totalitarianism.

In the case, Xavier Alvarez, a member of the water district board in Pomona, Calif., said at a public meeting that he was a retired Marine who had received the Medal of Honor. The fact is he never served in the military. He also claimed, according to the Los Angeles Times, to have "played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings, worked as a police officer, rescued the U.S. ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis and married a Mexican starlet."

Alvarez was indicted and pleaded guilty to the federal law with the understanding that he would challenge the law's constitutionality in his appeal.

Many veterans are outraged by the high court's decision, but not all.

Jack Jacobs, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor in Vietnam, told The Associated Press the justices made the right call. He said he wore the uniform to protect people's rights -- even if he doesn't agree with how they exercise those rights.

"There are lots of things people do that revolt me, but I'm happy that I fought for this country not to give them the right to do something stupid, but for the majority of the people to do the right thing," said the 66-year-old Jacobs, who received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for carrying several of his buddies to safety from a shelled rice field despite the shrapnel wounds in his head, the streaming blood clouding his vision.

"I'm a free speech guy," he added.

Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., isn't necessarily pleased but he believes people have the power to deal with liars.

"Public humiliation is now the most effective tool to expose the delusional Walter Mittys of American Society," he wrote in an email to The Washington Post. "Military recruiters are happy to welcome those desiring to be valorous in combat into the Armed Forces."

The best way to put an end to these lies about military service is to denounce them. The truth will ultimately prevail.


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