Wearing Unearned Medals Deemed Freedom of Speech

The first amendment: a combination of the greatest achievement and the worst frustration all packed together into a few succinct words. The government always seems to want to limit the freedom of speech, only for the courts to remind them that their actions are unconstitutional. While veterans and the government may not always see eye to eye, it seems that on one issue they nearly always do.

When discussing stolen valor, it is hard to find a government official or a veteran that is not against it. Yet, this very amendment seems to be a sticking point for the stolen valor laws and rules that are being put in place. In 2006, when President Bush signed the Stolen Valor Act into law, it was met with happiness. When the Supreme Court struck it down in 2012, it was seen as yet another example of interpretation of the First Amendment in ways that were unexpected since the Constitution was first enacted.

Today, in another strange and perplexing turn, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the “First Amendment allows people to wear unearned military honors.” Allow me to say that again: the courts have determined that the wearing of unearned military honors is in fact a freedom of speech.

MedalsThe official wording of the court opinion can be summarized as follows; the wearing of a medal conveys a message, and the Stolen Valor Act restricts an individual’s ability to convey that message. Therefore, it violates their freedom of speech by the government.

In 2013, President Obama signed into law a bill that made it illegal to profit financially by lying about military service. The opinion of today’s court case goes on to say that the case specifically failed to identify any proof of specific harm to identifiable victims. Therefore, it is to be understood that the law against gaining profit by wearing unearned medals is not in question, but the individual walking around in a uniform that they did not earn, wearing medals and claiming amazing and heroic deeds, is in fact, legally sound.

Courts are often in an interesting situation. There are very few examples from today that meet the exact wording from the Constitution; therefore, they are put in a position to interpret what they believe the intent behind the amendments would be. The Court of Appeals is not always the best at performing these interpretations. The 9th Court of Appeals, between 2005 and 2012, had 100 out of 128 cases (78.1%) reversed by the Supreme Court. The 6th Court of Appeals had 31 out of 38 cases (81.6%) reversed. Perhaps this helps to explain why Presidential candidates over the years have called for its closure or even sending the judges to Guam.

This decision will undoubtedly make its way up to the Supreme Court, as many emotional cases tend to do. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and a bit of decency will be returned to the interpretation of the First Amendment. Just because someone can interpret something poorly, doesn’t mean they should.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Kyle Soler

Kyle Soler

Kyle Soler is an active duty Infantry Officer serving in the US Army. He has served in the military for more than 10 years, working his way from an Infantry Squad Leader to a Company Commander with multiple combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan in between. Kyle earned his bachelor’s degree in History from Willamette University, and three Master degrees from Jones International University in Information Security Management, Health Care Management, and International Business. He also holds certifications in Six Sigma Lean and Six Sigma Lean Black Belt. His primary focus is realigning organizational priorities to get the most out of the time available in terms of training and development. Prior to entering military service, he worked as a fire fighter and an EMT. His areas of knowledge include military, training, leadership, disaster and continuity planning.
Kyle Soler

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