A bill that would make it a crime to falsely claim medals, decorations or other wartime honors in order to materially benefit from the sacrifices of others has passed the House and Senate in two lopsided votes. It is now awaiting the signature or veto of the President.
The bill seeks to correct some of the overreaching of the older Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2005 in a controversial ruling. The original law simply made it a crime to falsely claim wartime awards or honors. However, the Supreme Court found that the law was an unconstitutional breach of the 1st Amendment and freedom of speech.
The newer bill seeks to address the Supreme Court’s objection by restricting the law to prohibit attempts to profit or gain by such fraud. The new Stolen Valor Act, sponsored by Republican Joe Heck of Nevada, passed the House by a vote of 390-3. The three votes against were all Republicans: Broun, Amash and Massie. A similar bill, S. 3254, sponsored by Senator James Webb, a Virginia Democrat, passed the Senate late last year, 92-6. The Senators voting against included one Democrat, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, and six Republicans: Jim DeMint, Lamarr Alexander, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.
The Stolen Valor bill would punish offenses by up to a year in prison or fine of up to 100,000 per offense or both. The bill would specifically restrict false claims of entitlement to the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Ribbon, or Combat Action Medal. The bill would also prohibit false claims of entitlement to the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Silver Star and the Purple Heart. The Bronze Star Medal, apparently, is fair game.
The American Civil Liberties Union fiercely opposes the bill. The legislative counsel to the ACLU, Gabe Rottman, wrote:
“There’s really no reason to act here at all. Fraud—including fraud respecting the receipt of military decorations—is already illegal under federal and state law, meaning the bill’s unnecessary. Additionally, by targeting only misrepresentations concerning military decorations, even the Griffin version of Stolen Valor is arguably unconstitutional because it discriminates against speech based on its content.
Finally, as Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts both stressed in the plurality opinion in Alvarez, the case invalidating the first Stolen Valor bill, it’s a simple matter for the government to create a comprehensive and publicly accessible database of military decorations. Think the guy at the bar claiming a Purple Heart is full of it? We live in the age of the smartphone. Dude doesn’t stand a chance.”
The bill now goes to the President’s desk. He is expected to sign it.