Stolen Valor Act 2: No Lie
While the focus of public and media attention is on the federal financial storms, the 112th Congress is quietly attempting another judicial end sweep. It is a free speech issue you probably haven’t heard about. This time it is not the abridgement of a Constitutional right, such as the anti-abortion bill HR 3’s end sweep of the Fourteenth Amendment and Roe v. Wade. This time it is an end sweep of the Supreme Court itself.
Back in March this year, a federal appeals court upheld an earlier ruling by three of its members that a law making it illegal to lie about being a military hero violates free speech. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision struck down the Stolen Valor Act passed by the Republican Congress of 2005 and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006. Dozens of people have been arrested under the law; mostly veterans coming home from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and then being embraced as heroes. Many simply got caught living a lie without profiting from it, but almost all of the impostors have been ordered to perform community service.
With a federal appeals court striking down the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 as unconstitutional, that law is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) and a ruling on First Amendment protected free speech. So the House has introduced HR 1775, the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, as a backup law and referred it to the Judiciary Committee. Like the first dubious law, Stolen Valor Act 2 will amend title 18, United States Code, “to establish a criminal offense relating to fraudulent claims about military service,” such as claiming to be a war hero for profit or gain.
However, the issue is more than just lying about distinguished military service. “If all untruthful speech is unprotected,” ruled Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, “. . . we could all be made into criminals, depending on which lies those making the laws find offensive,” he wrote. “And we would have to censor our speech to avoid the risk of prosecution for saying something that turns out to be false.” Chief Judge Kozinski states, “The First Amendment does not tolerate giving the government such power.”Continued on the next page