Xavier Alvarez must have been feeling pretty buoyant that evening in 2007 after his election to the Pomona, CA, Water District Board. He campaigned for his spot and introduced himself at his first board meeting as a retired Marine and a 1987 winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. After some rather easy fact checking by newspapers in his local community, it was quickly discovered that Alvarez was lying and hadn’t even served in the military.
Alvarez might have faded into obscurity, except for the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. When Alvarez made the news, the feds prosecuted him. He pled guilty. He was actually charged and convicted on other crimes not related to false military service claims, but he lawyered up and appealed his conviction under the Stolen Valor Act.
Leave it to San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to hold that Alvarez’s egregious lie, which undermined the value of everyone else’s honorable service and heroism, was nothing more than an exercise of free speech.
Compounding this ridiculous ruling was the 2012 Supreme Court’s decision that the Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment. In the ruling (6-3) the judges couldn’t come to a complete consensus on why the law violated free speech. Four of our nit-picking high court knuckleheads figured that a lie in a statement is not enough to exclude it from protection by the First Amendment. (Do we really appoint these people for life so that they can insult our intelligence this way?)
Anyway, both Houses of Congress reacted swiftly and with overwhelming majorities passed an updated version of the Stolen Valor Act. On June 3rd, the President signed the Act, which makes it a federal crime for people to pose as war heroes by wearing medals they didn’t earn. This version of the law adds the proviso that such false claims must be made with the intention to get money, property or other benefits that the person might not otherwise deserve.
Perhaps I’ve been overly critical here, and I’ll admit that I’m no “legal beagle.” But shouldn’t something as morally wrong as claiming service that was not rendered and awards that were not won be punishable regardless of the prospect of gain or profit? I heard somewhere that we should allow the law to be our best teacher. If so, and in this case, I suppose I’m not the ideal student.
I’d rather let honor and duty teach us about what’s right.
At *your* service,