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Judge Says Constitution Protects Lying About Purple Heart Receipt

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by underthesea

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In The News

A Federal judge has declared a virtually unknown law to be unconstitutional: the Stolen Valor Act makes it a crime to falsely claim possession or award of a military medal or Purple Heart, the U.S. government wildly asserting that chucking the law could impact soldier motivation or valor on the battlefield.
It all started when a Colorado resident—who actually never served in the military at all, let alone receiving an award for duty--was arrested for falsely claiming award of a Purple Heart medal and other medals. The man claimed that the awards were related to his time when he supposedly served as a Marine in Iraq. That military time, and awards, never occurred. It seems the man might have won after all—challenging the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 that includes possible prison sentence of up to a year.
The Colorado man claims the Stolen Valor Act law breaches U.S. citizens' First Amendment rights as protected by the Constitution—and the court seems to agree. In the first ruling which deems the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn describes the U.S. government's law and its defense as “troubling” and also “contrary, on multiple fronts, to well-established First Amendment doctrine” While the law is unknown to most of the nation, dozens of people have actually been charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act. The Colorado man who falsely claimed a Purple Heart was sentenced with a $5,000 fine and 400 hours of community service. Now at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, judges are weighing the Stolen Valor Act’s constitutionality.
The strange U.S. law says that it is illegal to falsely represent, verbally or in writing “to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item.”
That, of course, includes the famed Purple Heart.
Stranger than the law’s existence is the government’s defense of the Stolen Valor Act: U.S. government claims that the Stolen Valor Act should be upheld or is not unconstitutional: “By allowing anyone to claim to possess such decorations [i.e., award of the Purple Heart], could impact the motivation of soldiers to engage in valorous, and extremely dangerous, behavior on the battlefield,” the government issued in writing.
The Purple Heart is awarded to military personnel wounded or killed in “any action against an enemy of the United States. Apparently the United States government is asserting that our men and women of the military are willing to put their lives on the line in order to protect our country—but only if they might receive a medal that won’t do them any good in death.
So true valor occurs only with probability of reward—or award.
Judge Blackburn is not impressed by the government’s assertion: “This wholly unsubstantiated assertion [by the U.S. government] is, frankly, shocking, and indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor,” the judge ruled. “To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension.”

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