Friday, October 1, 2010

Stolen Valor Act ruled unconstitutional: thoughts and comments

Cover of "Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam G...Cover via Amazon
Recently, the "Stolen Valor Act" was declared unconstitutional by two US Circuit Court of Appeals. On one hand it makes sense, on the other hand such perps *should* be punished.

So what is the Stolen Valor Act? It is a law passed in 2005 that makes it a Federal crime to impersonate a US military veteran, wearing uniforms, displaying medals s/he never received, and so on. This was named after a book "Stolen Valor", which documented many "fake" veterans used their alleged service to reduce their prison sentence, obtain government benefits, and in general benefited from the misrepresentation.

The court basically ruled that First Amendment, i.e. right to free speech, means people have the right to lie and falsely claim things.

I find such logic troubling, but I understand where they are coming from. Government cannot pick and choose which speech to protect, unless they present clear and present danger to the public. The famous example is "yelling 'fire!' in a crowded theater, thus causing panic" is NOT free speech, because people are harmed. In the "stolen valor" cases, where fake veterans wear medals they were not entitled, the judge basically said there's no "victim". The veterans who have earned such medals can't be hurt by a few fakers.

Yet I find the logic troubling. While the real vets and medal winners are not hurt, the general public is hurt, if exposed to the fakes. On the other hand, it is not like a physical hurt, but more of betrayal, being lied to, and so on.

It is basically fraud, but more of a "reputation fraud". It is like padding one's resume, claiming school degree that doesn't exist, and so on. Wearing a medal automatically gives the wearer legitimacy, and claiming legitimacy where there is none is fraud. Just like claiming degree when it doesn't exist.

Who is hurt when one impersonates law enforcement? Depends on what the fake cop did, right? Yet impersonating an officer is automatically a crime, such as wearing a fake uniform and fake badge in public. It's only NOT a crime if you fully know it's a joke, such as acting out a fantasy, or a prank.

Yet military uniform and medals are NOT considered the same as police uniform and badge, at least in this regard. Fake veterans wearing fake medals committed no crime, yet their intention is clearly to deceive those around him/her.

Why should it NOT be a crime?
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