The Supreme Court has agreed to consider the Constitutionality of the so-called Stolen Valor Act. McClatchy:
Passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the politically popular legislation imposes prison sentences of up to one year on those who “falsely represent” either in writing or orally that they have received military decorations. The law covers false representations made before any kind of audience.
The case, United States v. Alvarez, developed from a California resident named Xavier Alvarez. “In 2007,” McClatchy reports, “while serving as an elected board member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in southern California, Alvarez announced at a board meeting that he was a wounded Marine veteran who had been awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism.” This was not true. Alvarez lied. So the FBI investigated him and charged him with violating the 2006 law established by the Stolen Valor Act. Alvarez pleaded guilty, receiving three years of probation and was fined $3,000.
Alvarez isn’t the only one. Colorado resident Rick Glen Strandlof also “faced criminal charges for falsely claiming to have been awarded the Purple Heart for wounds and the Silver Star for heroism in the battle of Fallujah during the Iraq war,” and for using an alias when he established a group called the Colorado Veterans Alliance.
There are obvious First Amendment violations here that I won’t insult our readers with articulating. What’s more interesting to me is that we are living in such a culture of honor, so subservient to militaristic symbolism and emblems of primordial brutishness, so reverent for the acclaimed sacrifice of those who devote themselves to violence at the order of the state, that such a violation of the human right to speak without harm to his neighbor can be passed unanimously in our legislature. This law, especially if it is upheld by the Supreme Court, is indicative of just how deeply sunk are Americans’ fondness for a martial culture, placing it even above the equally arbitrary religious pieties so prevalent here (since I don’t believe it’s against the law to declare yourself the messiah).
Just look at some of the rhetoric from the defenders of the law:
“Unfortunately, the significance of these medals is being devalued by phony war heroes who fabricate their honors and military careers,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said during the brief House debate. “They do so for greed and selfishness, and disrespect the service and sacrifice of our military heroes.”
…The Obama administration contends the law performs the “vital function” of protecting “the integrity and effectiveness of the military honors system.” False statements, the administration adds, are typically given less protection under the First Amendment.
The speech that would lead someone to falsely claim that he or she is a decorated veteran probably does not have any valuable social function, as does political speech or journalism that is critical of the government. And it doesn’t have to. That I might be imprisoned or fined for uttering harmless words that are admittedly an affront to a way of life, an insult to this society-wide emotional attachment to machismo violence in service to the nation’s rulers is infuriatingly restrictive, both culturally and politically.