Xavier Alvarez made a lot of outlandish claims. He said he had played pro hockey and married a Mexican movie actress. But what hauled him before a judge was his false assertion that he had won the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat decoration.
People who appropriate for themselves achievements earned by real military veterans may be contemptible, but the Supreme Court was right in ruling recently that the offense, by itself, doesn’t merit criminal penalties.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 6-3 majority, said the law was overly broad and provisions restricting speech “must be judged by the sometimes inconvenient principles of the First Amendment.”
Alvarez, who claimed to be a retired Marine, had appealed a fine of $5,000 and a sentence of three years’ probation under the Stolen Valor Act passed during the Bush administration. Supporters argued that the statute was needed to protect the integrity of military medals, but the court ruled that there is no proof that the honor of those who served is diminished when people claim fake achievements.
In a separate opinion, Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer said the government could pursue the matter through less restrictive means, such as requiring that a “false statement caused a specific harm.”
For example, if someone wins a job or position by making a false claim of military service, that is a form of fraud — something more worthy of sanctions — and a more reasonable approach to the problem of hollow heroes.
Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.