There are many individuals who want to bask in the sunlight of fame and glory by dishonestly claiming they earned a medal or special honor serving their country. It is hard to imagine a more despicable person than one who lies about receiving medals or special honors while serving their country in the military. These false claims are a disservice to soldiers and veterans who earned their medals the hard way by giving their life, limbs or mental stability and those who valiantly served beside them. How should frauds like this be treated?
Consider Xavier Alvarez (described in my Post in 2012) who lied about receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. When Alvarez attended his first public meeting as a board member of the Three Valley Water District Board he introduced himself as: “I’m a retired marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy.” Lying was a habit for Alvarez as he also lied when he said that he played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and that he once married a starlet from Mexico. However, when Alvarez lied that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, he violated a federal criminal statute, the Stolen Valor Act (Act). Alvarez was charged and convicted and thereafter appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Enter now the world of free speech where the United States Supreme Court in U. S. v. Alvarez invalidated the Act and the charges against Alvarez on the grounds that the Act violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In 2013, Congress amended the Act, to correct the constitutional defect, by making it a crime for a person to fraudulently claim that they had received a particular military decoration and award with the intention of obtaining money, property, or other tangible benefit from convincing someone he or she rightfully received that award. In other words, as long as you were not profiteering in some way you could make fraudulent claims.
That left a big hole in the law, by allowing individuals who did not seek to obtain money, property or other benefits to continue to falsely claim that they had received a particular military declaration or award. Enter now the world of shaming brilliantly described in “The Honor Guard,” an article in the December 2016 edition of “The Atlantic” by Mockenhaupt. Yes, when there is no recourse under the law, shaming correctly puts the public spotlight on liars who falsely claim they were awarded medals or special honors for serving their country. This is some progress unfortunately leaving those who have no shame to continue to make false claims.
Howard Wright © 2016