Stolen Valor Makes Headlines Again

January 22, 2016 

Earlier this month a federal appeals court overturned the 2007 conviction of a veteran found guilty of violating the Stolen Valor Act for wearing several unearned military medals.

Many MOAA members have asked where we stand on the issue.

MOAA worked with Congress in 2006 to pass the original Stolen Valor Act. The legislation made it a federal misdemeanor to lie about receiving military awards and decorations.

In 2012, the Supreme Court heard a case to determine whether the law violated the First Amendment. MOAA, along with over 20 other military and veterans service organizations, filed a petition with the court on the constitutionality of the law. MOAA believed this was “a case about theft, not freedom of expression.”

Despite MOAA's and others' efforts, the Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in a 6-3 decision. While such lies are reprehensible, the court ruled, they are protected speech under the Constitution.

In response to the decision, MOAA worked with Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), now chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, to sponsor an updated version of the Stolen Valor Act. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) led the effort in the Senate.

The revised and more narrowly constructed legislation made it a crime to gain money, property, or other tangible benefits by fraudulently claiming to have received military awards or decorations.

MOAA felt the updated legislative language struck the proper balance between preventing unscrupulous gain from false statements while protecting the individual freedoms that generations of uniformed servicemembers have fought to preserve.

“By barring any profit from such misrepresentation, rather than criminalizing the false statement itself, the new legislation avoided the First Amendment problems cited in the Supreme Court's decision,” said MOAA's Director of Government Relations, Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret).

Congress quickly passed the legislation, and President Obama signed it into law in 2013. This version of the Stolen Valor Act is still valid.

In the recent court case, the individual's original conviction was based on the 2006 law that has since been repealed and modified, so the federal court had no choice but to overturn the conviction. 

 

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