SCOTUS Ruling on the Stolen Valor Act: Where and When Does Morality Trump the Law?

On June 28, 2012 the Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) ruled on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The ACA was undoubtedly one of the most polarizing pieces of U.S. legislation in recent history and the cornerstone of the Obama Administration.  While the ACA and the Court’s decision were at the forefront of media attention on June 28, the SCOTUS released other legislative rulings on that day as well, among them, their ruling on the Stolen Valor Act.

The Stolen Valor Act was introduced in 2005 under the Bush Administration.  Essentially this act made it illegal for anyone to claim a military award/decoration of which they have not been officially awarded.  Any citizen identified as falsely claiming or lying about being a recipient of a military decoration could now be criminally prosecuted in the United States.  Proponents of the law believed that the sanctity of military decorations would now be forever protected from those who sought to claim a prestige that they did not rightfully earn.  However, critics decried the law as an assault on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

On June 28,2012, the SCOTUS sided with the latter.  As of June 28, 2012, any individual in the United States of America can legally lie about being awarded any military decoration.  Many who have not lived the military life may never understand the cowardly and frankly violating action of falsifying the receipt of a military award or decoration, especially those awards given for valor in combat.  Individuals who speak of or wear awards that they did not in fact earn, detract from the true meaning and significance of the award itself; by making these false claims, these individuals overtly insult all of the brave men and women who have actually earned these awards.

In addition, those who have not lived the military life may more than likely be surprised by the fact that many military members and veterans may agree with the SCOTUS’s recent decision.  When one takes the oath of enlistment in military service, they are promising to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.  If the SCOTUS determines that an individual is protected under the First Amendment to lie about being awarded a military decoration, then our Service Members and Veterans are and were bound to defend that right to lie.

In light of the aforementioned discussion, America is in quite the moral dilemma.  Regardless of the morality involved, lying is a constitutional right.  But where and when does morality trump the law?  Our Nation’s military protects our freedoms; they defend the cherished philosophies of our constitution.  They do so without hesitation and without prejudice; they do so without thought of reward or accolade.  They mustn’t be provided with the burden to defend their own cherished accomplishments and sacrifices from those who would seek to make light of these awards for the sake of attention and celebrity.  Much like many of us would quickly denounce one who made a racist remark to another, we must be just as quick to police our own society for those who would wish to falsely claim a military award.

The SCOTUS has ruled – the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional.  However, just because an individual can doesn’t always mean that they should.  Our Nation’s warriors experience the unimaginable.   Day after day they grab their rifle, check their gear, and venture “outside the wire”.  Through hail of gunfire, incoming mortars, and the medical evacuations of their comrades, they perform acts of heroism.  While all are heroes, only some are recognized with a distinguishable medal pinned upon their chest.  They carry that award with honor and anguish over the sacrifice that it took to get it.  We as a collective American people should ensure that the sanctity of these awards and the meaning behind their existence is not lost in a lie.  While the military “fakers” can no longer be legally prosecuted, they cannot and should not escape the social conviction of the citizenry.

For more information on the Stolen Valor Act, read the SCOTUS decision.

Legislation, SMVF