There was another Supreme Court ruling Thursday that was lost amid the comprehensive coverage of the decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.
In a 6-3 decision, the court held that the federal Stolen Valor Act, which made it illegal for someone to claim to have been awarded or to wear military medals or decorations they did not earn, violated the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.
It was a wise decision.
Not that we condone lying about military service, as it dishonors those who actually have fought and died in service of our country.
Lying about military service is not honorable, and it’s not uncommon, either. Military medals can be purchased on the Internet, wars have been all too frequent in the past 60 years, and there always will be people with enough gall to use a false service record to make themselves seem possessed of the bravery, commitment, or tenacity of those who actually have served our country in the armed forces.
Although claiming honors one did not earn is a low form of deceit, that shouldn’t make it illegal. Not in a country where freedom of speech is the norm.
Lying about military service isn’t obscene. It doesn’t constitute a clear and present danger to anyone, incite violence, or jeopardize our national security.
That doesn’t mean it’s OK. It just doesn’t make it a crime.
If someone lies about their military record in order to falsely gain benefits, that’s fraud, and there’s already a law against it.
Besides, in today’s digital age, where mountains of information are accessible at the click of a mouse, people are more connected than ever and our society is filled with fact-checkers, it would seem that the only person in real danger of being hurt by lying about their military record is the person themselves.
Those who concoct fake war stories to bolster their own reputation often find themselves exposed. A good recent example was Timothy Poe, who, as a contestant on the NBC-TV show “America’s Got Talent,” claimed to have jumped on a rocket-propelled grenade while serving in Afghanistan. That never happened, a fact that was exposed not long after the show aired in June.
The late Werner “Jack” Genot, a former city council member in Marengo, was exposed in 2005 as a pretender who falsely claimed to have several military honors and said he escaped a POW camp during the Korean War.
The guilt that these pretenders feel in living with their lies, and the shame they feel when they are exposed should be punishment enough.
No need for the government to get involved.