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'Stolen Valor' Struck Down: Lying About Military Medals Not a Crime

By Andrew Lu on July 03, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's a big win for liars: You are now constitutionally allowed to lie about receiving a military medal.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Stolen Valor Act that had made it a crime to lie about receiving military medals. The Court held that First Amendment free speech rights trumped integrity and honor when it came to such awards.

Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act in 2006. The law made it a crime to falsely claim to have received military awards. Violators could have faced up to six months in prison, or up to one year for lying about elite awards like the Medal of Honor, reports Reuters.

One year after the law passed, a California man, Xavier Alvarez, was elected to a local water board and introduced himself at a board meeting as a retired Marine who had received the Medal of Honor. It turned out that Alvarez had never received the medal and had never even served in the military. As a result, he was one of the first ones charged under the Stolen Valor Act, reports Reuters.

Alvarez pleaded guilty and paid a $5,000 fine, but later challenged the constitutionality of the law. With a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court agreed with him. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote, "The nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace," reports Reuters.

So while lying about receiving a Medal of Honor may be "contemptible," it is constitutionally protected free speech, as the Stolen Valor Act was struck down.

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