Trials on false honors must uphold free speech
Xavier Alvarez, a California native who campaigned for and eventually won a seat on the Three Valleys Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors in 2007, publicized the ideal résumé.
He boasted an array of military honors, the most notable being the Medal of Honor.
He continued to boast about his accolades as a serving officer and veteran until he was prosecuted on two accounts of falsely stating that he had been awarded the esteemed medal.
After he was charged and fined, he resigned from the board in 2010.
The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court, which concluded that although the lies were “bizarre,” Alvarez’s free speech protections had been violated by the mere prosecution against his lies.
Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case U.S. v. Alvarez.
The core of the issue remains, however, that freedom of speech is protected, and “bizarre” cannot justify incrimination.
Simply put, legal action against Alvarez’s lies, and the lies of others who falsely claim military honors, is unconstitutional.
A Supreme Court decision would not only wrap up the Alvarez debacle, but to also serve as a precedent for “stolen valor” cases to come.
The dilemma at hand is the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005.
This congressional law made it a crime for anybody to “falsely represent himself or herself, verbally or in writing” as having been awarded military honors of any magnitude.
The law was a direct reaction to the tripling of “stolen valor cases” since the 9/11 attacks, and although it is merited and understandable, the legislation is blatantly unconstitutional.
Never before has the Supreme Court questioned the act of lying under these situations. The First Amendment’s free speech clause offers a few exceptions, namely “fraud, defamation, and perjury.” Lies, either spoken or written, have never been described or classified as exceptions to the First Amendment.
If the lies were to cause a “breach of the peace,” they would be deemed constitutionally objectionable.
In the case of Alvarez, his lies did nothing more than reflect poorly on his character and blacklist him from the community.
Lies, in and of themselves, are protected forms of speech.
If the Supreme Court were to vote in favor of the unconstitutional Act, it will transform the FBI and other civil investigative agencies into — as a New York Times editorial titled “Honor and Free Speech” eloquently put it — the “truth police.”
Thousands of civilians will be incriminated for lying about small and minute points of contention if this comes to pass.
This is not the job of the government and, more importantly, this was not the objective of the framers of our Constitution.
Even Douglas Sterner, a war veteran and staunch proponent of the law, is beginning to backpedal on his previous statements.
In interviews with veteran’s groups across the country, he has consistently expressed his strong support for the Act in order to maintain respect for servicemen and women who have actually received the awards.
Surprisingly, there is no government-constructed database cataloging military achievements. A congressional subcommittee is currently in the process of planning to create a database of “American military award-recipients.”
This database would prevent these lies from occurring and would simultaneously weed out those that commit these disgusting deceptions.
Action needs to be taken against lies of military valor — the respect our servicemen and women deserve depends on it. However, within the confines of the Constitution, this action cannot come in the form of incrimination.