When I saw the headline, I thought you’ve got to be kidding me. This can’t be correct. This seems blatantly wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. But the headline isn’t an error. Here’s the Associated Press’ headline:
Court: Wearing Unearned Military Medals Is Free Speech
And apparently (and most appalling to me) this court decision about wearing unearned military medals is in line with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 2012.
In January, a specially convened 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the First Amendment allows people to wear unearned military medals, according this Associated Press article.
This decision overturned the 2007 conviction of former Marine Elven Joe Swisher. Swisher was convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act.
Don’t remember the Stolen Valor Act?
The Stolen Valor Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005. This law made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any military decoration. You know, a decision that makes sense and honors our veterans.
Then in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the act unconstitutional under First Amendment free speech protections in the case United States v. Alvarez. Alvarez falsely claimed he was a retired Marine who had received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez never served in the military so obviously he didn’t earn any military medals.
“Though few might find (Alvarez’s) statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. He wrote that the First Amendment
“protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace.”
In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress revised the Stolen Valor Act making it a crime to “financially profit by lying about military service.” President Barack Obama signed the revised Stolen Valor Act into law in 2013.
A Christian Science Monitor article explains the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision like this:
“…Swisher’s case overturns a prominent provision of the 2013 Act, legally allowing anyone to wear a Purple Heart.”
Anyone? Yup, anyone. You, me, that guy down the street, that woman in the parking lot. Anyone.
That idea is insulting.
But there’s more.
“The value of a military medal lies not in the materials of which it is comprised, but in its message,” 9th Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote in the majority opinion. “Wearing a medal without authorization, therefore, generally communicates the false message that the wearer is entitled to such recognition and gratitude…. Wearing a medal has no other purpose other than to communicate a message.”
Those last 3 words irritate me – “Communicate a message.”
Yes, a military medal does “communicate a message.” It communicates a personal sacrifice for our country. It communicates loyalty to the Armed Forces. A military medal communicates an action that went above and beyond the average actions of other soldiers, Marines, sailors or airmen.
Wearing military medals should be limited to those who earned them. Those soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors are the ones who deserve to wear military medals.
This Idaho man was honorably discharged in 1957. Court documents showed that Swisher served in the military and that he didn’t receive any military medals.
Yet, he was photographed wearing a several military medals and awards, including the Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Ribbon, Purple Heart, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Bronze “V,” according to the Associated Press article.
When you wear unearned military medals, you are a liar.
And that’s the truth.