Stolen Valor

The Stolen Valor Act — which criminalizes making false claims about military service — is up for review by the Supreme Court. The case involves a California politician who made up a Marine career, including a Medal of Honor. You can see the case for here, which is basically a argument that the Constitutional protection of free speech should not be extended to lies.

But I find myself, not surprisingly, agreeing with Jacob Sullum:

But since the Court is applying a constitutional provision that says “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,” this approach seems backward. Shouldn’t the question be whether the government has a compelling enough reason to overcome what sounds like a very strong presumption against punishing speech? At the very least, the First Amendment puts the burden of proof on the censors, who must justify their speech limits, rather than the speaker, who need not show that his words have value.

This should be our approach to almost all issues of civil liberties. It is not the people who must justify our freedom; our freedom is implicit; it comes to us from our Creator. It is government that must justify its intrusion.

So, is it justified here? I can’t help but wonder if more generalized fraud provisions would be a better course. If my doctor makes all kinds of false claims about training and awards, I could sue for fraud. If an employee makes false claims about their education and experience, I can fire them. Why shouldn’t false claims of any type be grounds for a fraud complaint or removal from office?

I’m not going to defend Xavier Alvarez, who is a scumbag. But should we be making a federal case out of this? Should he be facing time in federal prison?

Comments are closed.

  1. AlexInCT

    So, is it justified here? I can’t help but wonder if more generalized fraud provisions would be a better course.

    Giving government power to wield something that can be absued to silence dissent bothers me. Wait until politicians use any laws tied to this to silence anyone from calling them the crooks they are. Frankly I think criminalizing assholes lying is far more dangerous than the assholes lying about being something they are not. What we should have is a national database where we can collect the names and pictures of these liars so other people can quickly identify them and give them the proper disdain. Anything past that is dangerous.

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  2. JimK

    On the one hand, you know, fuck this guy. But did he commit a crime? Lying about his past, even to get a job…well we’re all guilty of that to some degree. Resumes are lies.

    The fact that he lied about military service makes him a special kind of scumbag, but should it make him an actual criminal? This reminds me of the time that…I think it was New York state? Anyway they were trying to pass a law that would criminalize men lying to women for sex. It would have been prosecuted as a form of coercion and fall on the spectrum of rape, not fraud.

    Same slippery slope to me. Do I want to prevent people from lying about military service? Yes. Should it literally be a “federal case?” Not too sure I’m comfortable with that.

    I like the idea of a registry (not a government-forced one) where people can go and see if a person has ever been caught lying about their service. Just a website with a database would do it. I bet any number of vet groups would be willing to maintain it if someone donated enough green to get it started.

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  3. davidst

    This is definitely not a slippery slope worth traveling on. I don’t want to have to trust the government to determine if mere speech is lying or not. If a lie causes some direct damage, there are potential civil and legal penalties to face based on existing laws already. Employers usually have employees list experience on a form and sign it (on penalty of immediate firing should a falsification be brought to light). That’s enough.

    As for donating any government money, time, legislation or anything else to a registry… just ask your self, what would Ron Paul do? You’d have to trust the people maintaining it to screen the entries and not just list anyone based on the slightest accusation. That would require a bunch of rules for some bureaucrats to follow before they could put anyone on it (since the government would be liable for mistakes). I don’t have to say any of that here. A private database sounds fine though.

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  4. Seattle Outcast

    I think I’ve run into 4 or 5 fake Navy SEALs in my day. We were all just laughing at them behind their backs, and that includes the women they were trying to hook up with – the efforts to convince us of their awesomeness were just that silly.

    I remember that one of them was actually too short for military duty, but that didn’t stop him in the slightest from telling us about his “missions”

    The only way I’d consider such lying to be criminal is if they use it to defraud someone.

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  5. AlexInCT

    I remember that one of them was actually too short for military duty, but that didn’t stop him in the slightest from telling us about his “missions”

    Any of them into Cambodia? And did he get 3 purple hearts? Oh wait. the loser telling those stories did serve, only to come home and sell his brothers in arms out to the enmy, and is a tall European look-a-like artistocrat wanna-be. He did marry money though, even if it took someone that knew the worth of an honest day’s work to make it and leave it to the women he hoooked up with.

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  6. Miguelito

    My sister was scammed by some dude she was dating a couple years ago that lied about having served. Everyone else knew something was wrong with this guy and didn’t buy it… but she loved him, so she did. Apparently his aunt talked to my sister at some point and revealed that basically everything he’d told her was complete shit.

    Forgot to finish… while I think the guy was an asshole, I don’t really see charging him with a crime for that.

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  7. Seattle Outcast

    My sister married some total loser of a compulsive liar/drug dealer that had served in the early Vietnam era. His version included Green Beret missions of dynamiting bridges, slitting throats of enemy soldiers on sentry duty, sniping generals from 3000 yards, etc.

    My dad knew somebody and had them look up his record. He worked in supply and never left the states.

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  8. hist_ed

    I think I can agree with the Supremes that lying is not necessarily protected by the First Amendment. However, that doesn’t mean that the Stolen Valor Act was a good idea. This should not be a criminal offense. I wouldn’t seeing a law passed that made lying about medals and such “fighting words” if said in the presence of a real veteran, so that when the veteran beats the shit out of the lying asshole, they don’t get charged with assault.

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