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Court: Okay to Lie About Being a War Hero

A federal judge in Colorado has ruled that a law making it a crime to lie about being awarded a military medal is unconstitutional. It is the first court ruling regarding the Stolen Valor Act of 2005.

This case involved a man -- never in the military -- who was arrested after claiming he had been awarded the Purple Heart and other medals as a Marine in Iraq. He challenged the law, claiming even lying is protected by the First Amendent right to free speech.

U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn agreed, saying the government’s defense of the act was “troubling” as well as “contrary, on multiple fronts, to well-established First Amendment doctrine."

The government argued the law is in the best interests of soldiers on the front lines. “By allowing anyone to claim to possess such decorations, could impact the motivation of soldiers to engage in valorous, and extremely dangerous, behavior on the battlefield,” the government wrote.

Judge Blackburn found that argument less than credible, to put it lightly.

“This wholly unsubstantiated assertion is, frankly, shocking, and indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor,” the judge ruled. “To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension.”

The Stolen Valor Act act makes it illegal to falsely represent, verbally or in writing “to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item.”

Dozens of people have been charged under the statute. The San Francisco–based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is also weighing the statute’s constitutionality in a separate case.


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