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Saturday, Feb. 24
The Indiana Daily Student

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Law barring military medal lies is tested

Federal courts are wrestling with 2006’s Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have received a medal from the U.S. military, even if the liar makes no effort to profit from the stolen glory.

Men charged in Colorado and California are challenging the law, saying the First Amendment protects almost all speech.

Federal prosecutor Craig Missakian argued deliberate lies are not protected and said the Constitution gives Congress the authority to raise and support an army, which includes, by extension, “protecting the worth and value of these medals.”

The Stolen Valor Act toughened a law forbidding anyone to wear a military medal that was not earned. It received unanimous approval in the Senate.

Dozens have been arrested as veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are being embraced as heroes. Many of the cases involve men who simply got caught in a lie without profiting from it. Virtually all the impostors were ordered to perform community service.

In one case, a man posing as a war hero was accused of using his status to get discount airline tickets and a free place to stay.

Defense attorneys said the law is problematic in the way it does not require the lie to be part of a scheme for gain. Turley said someone lying about having a medal to profit financially should be charged with fraud.

One man challenging the law is Xavier Alvarez, who said at a public 2007 meeting that he was a retired Marine and Medal of Honor recipient.

His claim aroused suspicion, and he was indicted. Alvarez, who apparently never served in the military, pled guilty on condition that he could appeal on the First Amendment question. He was sentenced to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000. The case is now before a federal appeals court.

The other challenger is Rick Glen Strandlof, who claimed he was an ex-Marine who received the Purple Heart and Silver Star. He founded an organization that helped homeless veterans.

Military officials said they had no record that he ever served. He has pleaded not guilty, and a judge is considering whether to throw out the charge.

Attorneys challenging the law said lying about a medal doesn’t fit any of the categories of speech that the U.S. Supreme Court has said can be banned: lewd, obscene, profane, libelous or creating imminent danger.

Army veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Pete Lemon supports the law, saying pretending to have a medal can bring undeserved rewards.

Military historian Doug Sterner said it embodies George Washington’s wishes, noting that Washington created the Purple Heart and wrote: “Should any who are not entitled to these honors have the insolence to assume the badges of them, they shall be severely punished.”

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