False claims to valor are not victimless crimes
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals got it wrong on the Stolen Valor Act.
The 2005 law was a response to the seemingly countless people who fraudulently represent themselves as decorated combat veterans. A 2008 Chicago Tribune investigation found, for example, that tombstones, obituaries and even the online edition of Who’s Who were rife with unsubstantiated claims of combat honors.
Often the bogus heroes never served in the military at all. In a case now before the 10th Court of Appeals, a Colorado man passed himself off as a Marine Corps captain who’d won a Purple Heart and suffered post-traumatic stress from a roadside bomb during one of his three tours in Iraq. Oh yes, he’d also gone to the U.S. Naval Academy.
When someone took a closer look, he turned out to have no military record at all, just a criminal one. Under the Stolen Valor Act, such an imposter can face fines and up to a year in prison.
We’re uncomfortable with prison sentences in cases like his. But the Ninth Circuit was wrong recently when – in a similar case – it held that the law violated the First Amendment.
The First Amendment guarantees free speech, but it doesn’t guarantee legal immunity for all forms of expression. It doesn’t protect fraud, obscenity, incitement to violence and defamation, for example. Limited classes of expression can be outlawed if there is a legitimate and compelling purpose for doing so.