prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Stolen Valor Debated by the Supreme Court

Posted by prof e on February 23, 2012

A law that got its start at CSU-Pueblo has made its way all the way to the Supreme Court where, this week, justices debated when it becomes a crime to tell a lie. In this case the lie is about being a recipient of  a military medal.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 got its start as a college paper written by Pam Sterner when she was a student at the University of Southern Colorado, now renamed CSU-Pueblo. Pam and her husband Doug are seen in this photo taken in their home in Virginia where they now live. According to the Daily Herald,

Pam Sterner went back to school in her early 40s at Colorado State University in Pueblo, Colo. In a political science course, she wrote a paper that grew out of her husband’s frustrations over phony award claimants whose worst punishment was public embarrassment. That paper eventually led to the Stolen Valor Act.

What is the significance of the Stolen Valor Act for students of the media? The Supreme Court will make its judgement based on whether the law is consistent with the 1st Amendment to the Constitution and its protection of free speech. Opponents of the Stolen Valor Act are concerned that defense of the law could lead to additional restrictions of free speech. The 1st Amendment is the most important legal protection for the media industries because of it protects not only personal speech, but it also protects the press which is broadly understood as media of all kinds. The 1st Amendment protects a broad array of speech, including speech that is mean-spirited, unpatriotic, and worse. [See a previous post on this blog which examined the protection of protests at military funerals.]

Lying about one’s exploits is not new nor unique to claims of military honors. As one person said in response to the debate over false claims of heroism, “there are only a six hundred Navy Seals in total. But in bars around the country, on any given Friday night, there are three times that number.”

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19 Responses to “Stolen Valor Debated by the Supreme Court”

  1. Rolland Morris said

    Stolen valor? In this country its more like the Hollywood-ization of valor, a wannabe affliction that permeates the American cultural mindset like never before in its history — a sure sign that the U.S. has little left in the way of a peaceful identity and a growing desperate need to ride the coat tails of a soldier class shamelessly propagandized by media. Even Obama’s last State of the Union address rhetorically demonstrated the government’s attempt to get Americans to rally behind this idea of perfect militaristic unity, since our political system continues to decay and citizen flirtations with revolution become louder. By the by, has anyone not seen the previews for the new action thriller featuring real live Navy SEALs flick — Act of Valor? They blow up a lot of things to an EMINEM theme song that’s designed to capture the attention of youths. This was an idea rejected out of hand by true blue soldiers less than a couple years ago. How quickly our descent seems to be occurring. How these SEALs were convinced to do such a movie is a more interesting story than the film could ever hope to be. They never use to want to be openly identified or cheered. I guess the triumphal siege of OBL’s ‘luxury’ compound by our top operators was marketing gold that the powers that be just had to loot.

    My best friend from high school, who is a former Army Ranger, couldn’t stop laughing at the preview. Even our elite military are now themselves actors on a bogus stage of virtue, he remarked.

    Hmmm, this whole issue seems like a personal crusade instigated once again by the righteously indignant types who place nationalism and patriotism on insurmountable golden pedestals, like something out of a movie. Just looking at the photo of the couple apparently responsible for bringing The Stolen Valor Act to fruition gives away the wing-nutty zeal of its main advocates. The seemingly subservient obedient housewife wife seated next to her military fanatic curmudgeon of a husband amidst the ornamentation of war memorabilia. What a scene! If either of the two have a military service record, I’m not the least surprised by all of the war propaganda surrounding them in the photo. if they don’t have service records, I’m still not surprised. I’d also be passively curious to know the extent, duration, and rank achieved during service, if it indeed exists, as it speaks to the shallow devotee mentality that shapes an intellectual pursuit such as this. I’ve found that many of these types often retire to lives of basic obscurity and irrelevance and as a result become complete chicken hawks and four star Armchair Generals eagerly attuned to FOX NEWS’ daring coverage of Geo-Political strife, especially when their entire identity is animated by military pride. They don’t hesitate to measure everything they see in society against such pomp and circumstance. That this lady even wrote an essay about some desperate poseurs boasting about military awards they never received let alone earned says more about her than it does the idiots who lie about a military record.

    Further, I can’t count the number of impotent dudes, old and young, that I’ve sat and had a beer with who served and have a ton of interesting war and other general military stories to tell, and they will gladly talk the ears off anyone who will listen and are always entertaining. That’s how you know they didn’t do anything significant — when they can’t stop talking about it. I’ve found that many of these guys really do have some level of military service experience, and nearly all of them lie to an extent, perhaps only to themselves, about the details of their “career.” They’re often lonely souls who have failed in every other aspect of life, but cling to some sense of manufactured honor they relish from their time spent in the service.

    But once in a great while, a real deal old bad ass reveals himself and tells a grim and not so glamorous tale of the soldier’s life. One night my best friend and I went to a pub, and at one point my buddy pulled out his wallet to pay for a round and an older gentlemen noticed the ranger emblem on my friend’s wallet. The man came over and began to talk with him & me and we all sat together and got really drunk. My friend knew the guy was legit by some of the details of his service that he shared. It turned out that this older gentleman was a former Ranger too; he served in Vietnam, whereas my friend got out after his 3-year bid and never saw war. At first there was a special type of tough guy comradery shared by my friend and the man, because to go through and finish just the indoctrination program to become a Ranger is an experience unlike anything ordinary servicemen go through. It’s no secret that most who try to become elite soldiers fail. Anyhow, to make this story a bit shorter, the night ended a bit morosely as this bad ass soldier became a regular guy in our eyes as he cried and told us about the many women and children he and his team wittingly murdered when clearing villages during the war. Stories i also hear from guys who served in Iraq and Afghanistan by the way. The mentality he had and that he regretted more than honored was for him a tremendous source of pain and anguish that would haunt him his entire life it seemed. This man was forever emotionally scarred, not the proud, virtuous hero we’re told to admire. We still did respect him of course, he was just a kid following the orders of old men orchestrating far from the battlefield; he wasn’t to be sentenced more than he already was as a young man. This fellow was not the brutish G.I. Joe Ken Doll action figure type you might expect either. He was a somewhat small framed man with an unimposing demeanor and yet a tremendous intellect, and he had left the military to succeed financially as an ordinary civilian. He was not some fiendishly prideful patriotic zealot, nor was he some sort of poor ex-military slob who needed to be identified by his uniform, either. you couldn’t spot this guy in a crowd, and that’s how my friend was too; this was their real source of pride.

    If the purpose of this Stolen Valor Act is to bring consequence to those who try to fraudulently acquire say veterans’ medical benefits or other financial assistance, who wouldn’t be for it? Although, there are probably sufficient laws on the books already that deal with such things. But if it’s just this couple’s crusade to trump up their own military and national pride mantra, well, they need to get a life and start reading propaganda other than war junk. The fact that so many people are lying about military service to acquire some sort of validation psychologically, socially or both is an indicator of some deeper cultural sickness. Figuring the source of that out is a worthwhile and intellectually just cause. This stupid sounding Stolen Valor legal debate is not.

  2. Desarey B said

    When i began reading this article i stopped mid way to start at the beginning and re-read it to my boyfriend, at the end of the article i expected him to have some reaction to what was read, all he said was oh. OH?!.. All he says is oh to the fact that men and women are falsly portraying that they have been in combat and put their lives on the line for a country to call their own, when in reality Modern Warfare is the closest they’ve been to any form of fire fight. Seeing that my boyfriend has been deployed on multiple occasions and has even been wounded. He has put his life on the line and has been awarded several medals for his bravery and putting his life on the line. I was expecting more than an Oh. Like the fact that the military does not have the same honor it use to have. That men and women can boycott soldiers funerals because the so “Don’t support this so called war.” Yet nothing is being said or done to these individuals. What is to be said about the men in the Act of Valor movie, that their military careers clearly aren’t enough anymore, it’s not the same honor to just be an American soldier, everyone is out to prove they have got nothing to prove. I don’t object one way or another, Mrs. Sterner should have been able to write her paper whether it was real or not it wasn’t plagarized and it was her and her husbands own ideals. People should just know that it is not alright to claim honor that you clearly don’t have. How does a person really live with themselves after doing something like this, seeing that we have lost so many soldiers over the past decade. Lying, is that really the honor you want to live with?

  3. Jennifer Hackett said

    What kind of punishment could you really put on someone who makes claims like that? I believe that it is morally wrong for someone to make false statements about something like that but that is on that person’s conscience and there is nothing anyone can really do about it. I do think that the honor of the military has decreased because I think it is becoming, for some people, a free education and the fact of them wanting to do something with their lives. I think our troops do so much for this country and are willing to die for people that they don’t even know and do not get the credit that they should. People who actually have the courage to fight and go into battle knowing they could die for this country don’t get very much credit and then you have people who can just make up a story and get credit for something they never did. Those are the people who have no respect for our troops and I think karma eventually goes around and they will have to live with the guilt of being honored for something they never did. I just don’t see how someone would be tried for a false statement when people lie all the time. It’s becoming human nature and what people do without question or guilt.

  4. Aubree Jo Miller said

    As wrong as it may be to say that you won an award you did not, I dont believe that the punishment should be taken too far. I do not understand why anyone would lie about earning an honor, but lying is not against the law. I understand that it is hard for soldiers who actually did serve and protect our country to accept these lies, but thats really all they are…lies. At the end of the day, they did not do anything that actually harms someone else, all they did was lie about themselves. It is utterly ridiculous that there are people out there who feel the need to lie about receiving an honor, but is there really a punishment that goes along with it? It would not be fair to punish them like we punish theives, murderers and so on. After all, all they are doing is speaking a lie, and under the first amendment, they have freedom of speech, meaning they can say whatever they want especially if it is about themselves. I do not agree that people should be going around lying about something such as this, but there are more serious things happening in our country. Because of the first amendment, and the right we have to speak freely, there is really nothing we can do but move on.

  5. Parker Bickel said

    I agree with Aubree lying is not against the law (most of the time). I do not think that this should be a crime to lie about having a medal when you don’t. It’s humiliating enough to tell someone that you won a medal or any other award for being in the military that when they say show me you have nothing to show. America needs to focus on more important things than whether or not someone should be tracked down because they lied about a medal. How would one even find these people, you can not just arrest someone for saying they have a medal because this person goes to the cops and tells the police that they said so. The law would be a waste of time of our lawyers along with our police forces.

  6. Victoria Gibson said

    In as few of words that I can use, I am sick and tired of everything being protected by the 1st Amendment. To explain myself, yes, the 1st Amendment is necessary and has been the backbone many great ideas in this country, but lying about recieving a military medal should not be justified by it. Soldiers, real heroes, have died serving this country and countless others have recieved medals for acts that could seem impossible and what people like this are doing to those that actually served is taking credit for something they have no idea about. Free speech is great but people have to have credibility and knowledge about a subject before they open their mouths. In today’s world that rarely ever happens and this is a great example.

  7. Eugene Lucero said

    Personally I don’t think that if this does pass as a law that it will hurt the first amendment. I don’t think it is right for someone to say that they received a metal if they never did. Those metals are given out to the men and women who deserve them, who stuck out more then everyone else, and went beyond what they were expected to do. I’m not trying to say all men and women in the army don’t deserve the credit for risking their lives, but I do believe that if you didn’t earn a metal then you have no right to say you did.

  8. Caitlyn Hollifield said

    Being involved in military courses such as Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) has allowed me to somewhat be able to connect to the military and understand what it takes to achieve those metals. I personally hate it when people say that they have been in the military and have received certain awards, it is dishonest and disrespect towards soldiers who have laid their lives down or have fought for our country. I do not think that there should be a law against this because it would be too hard to monitor it. The people who do say they get these metals will suffer for it someday.

  9. I have many ties into the military branches with cousins, best friends and elders who have joined. It is apparent that in order to catch someone lying about being in the military is as easy as asking to see there military ID. What action do you take as a civilian to insure that if someone is lying to you that they will be punished? It is hard enough to get police in for something like a fight let alone a lie. How awkward would someone feel if that person really was in the military? I feel like when Mrs. Sterner wrote her paper for class she had the same state of mind we all do when we right our papers for class, you try to be as convincing as possible and believe in what you are writing about. I like how Sterner and her husband have fought for what they believe in especially when it is in front of the supreme court. I do believe that it is wrong to lie, especially about having your countries honor but in some ways i feel like the 1st amendment is being ignored.

  10. Kelsey Brown said

    I agree that it is beyond wrong for a person to claim that they have received the Medal of Honor when they really have not, regardless if they’ve served their country or not. Metal of Honor recipients are the people that go above and beyond to fight and protect their country and it’s horrible that people willingly claim that they are any where near as equal as true medal recipients. Military personnel that have been on the front line of war have experienced things that no one could ever imagine and it is low and disgusting for people to degrade those soldiers by claiming they received the medal. I stand by the fact that the Sterners created the Stolan Valor Act but what type of punishment are people going to endure that have falsely claimed they received the award? I agree its wrong but I don’t exactly agree that it should be punishable by law. There is a lot of controversy that is going to come out of this law but I think people need to stick to their morals and tell the truth than simply lie about certain things, especially something that requires great bravery and heart to achieve.

  11. Although I feel it is necessary to somehow protect the right of those who may have indeed received a recognition of some kind, they should somehow be the only ones “recognized” for it. With that being said I don’t think on a larger scale it is a significant enough issue overall for a law the intrudes on one that is and has been in effect as our rights as a “person”. There are many things we would rather not see take place, and laws incased to insure they don’t, but fording someone to Not claim anything they want to be is taking away our basic human right to an “imagination” and I say that sincerely because not everyone can be accountable on the same level when it comes to simply “claiming” to be something they are not. You have to consider when you placing something it to law the society in its entirety. Have you ever encountered someone who you may question if they have some mental retardation? On some levels that can be perceived as funny, and in some its a legitimate question. How about someone with a mental disorder who still functions in society. What if the individual didn’t have the capacity to understand that they were taken place in an act of “Stolen Valor” but insisted on living there life claiming they where a war vet with medals of honor who got shot 3 times? Once a law is placed in effect shouldn’t it apply equally to everyone? and in the case where the man is classified “sane” since when do we have to follow the rules of adults even if we are one? I had plenty of medals of honor growing up, and it may not be so innocent but we are all just kids at heart and most people are not stiffed with who or what they are, If it not straight out impersonation and no one was harmed as a result the eventual exposure of the truth should do.

  12. Brandyn Moore said

    This passage talks about the Stolen Valor Act which is a law passed on whether it is a crime to tell a lie. The act started at the college I attend actually which is CSU Pueblo as a paper written by a student named Pam Sterner that also attends the college. The paper was an idea created by the opinion her husband had toward fake award claimants, in other words lies told by others. In my opinion I am very impressed with this woman in the way her assignment came this far as to becoming a new law. I can’t really say I know all of the details of the act because it doesn’t really explain much but I plan to look into it more after this because it is certainly interesting. I’m passionate about people stretching the truth also, its just not necessary. Especially when they lie about things that are very important and what I call a “big deal”, a white lie is fine I guess if it doesn’t affect another person but there are definitely boundaries that should not be crossed. Pam Sterner should be proud of herself, something is being done about this issue and it can possibly be taken all the way.

  13. Corey Sullinger said

    Lying should not truly be allowed by the first amendment but to try and stop everyone from lying or just punish them for it is an absurd notion. With the Stolen Valor Act, this lie I can imagine causes anguish in those who earned that military honor. These military honors is the bare minimum and the only possible thing you can give the recipient to try and repay them for the sacrifices they made and their life I am sure they almost lost. When any one can walk around and say they have some military honor it defiles the sacrifices that those who actually earned it made. Also if every one where to go around lying about it than most people would have to second guess those who earned it when they say they received a military honor. It would be like me having a girl friend and I tell her I love her but then I go and tell everyone else in the world the same thing. At that point when I say I love you to anyone it is no longer special or hold any meaning, and if people are allowed to continue to lie about military honors then I fear that it is doomed to the same fate, which is a shame those who earned it. In reality there are laws in place to protect the lives of soldiers out right know so that no battle strategies and plans get out to the enemies so they are not in danger of getting killed. Whereas the Stolen Valor Act protects the meaning of the lives that were almost lost doing some great sacrifice that a majority of people will never do.

  14. Melissa G. said

    I do not agree with lying especially when it comes to lying about receiving a medal of honor. It just plain out doesn’t make it fair for the people that actually risked their lives during the war. People tend to lye all the time, about anything and everything, but when it effects the government that’s when the rules are regulated as being against the law. I really don’t see how the government is going to step in and make it a law that if caught lying you can go to jail or be fined. That’s just another fee on our taxes; report the fraud (liars). People lye to gain attention, but I believe that karma comes back tenfold. As a community we should work together to trust in each other that we will truthfully report the facts.

  15. cassie crutchfield said

    Lying about being awarded a Medal of Honor emotionally hurts those who really have been awarded those honors. It decreases the value of what they have worked for. However lying being punishable by law seems absurd. If this law is passed then where will it end? If this law is passed we then also need one for every honor or award given such as Olympic Medals, and Grammy Awards. This law had the right intentions but just seems very unrealistic. People cannot get away with such lies, such as these, because the truth will eventually come out and I can imagine the embarrassment from that would be worse than any punishment of fine provided by this law. The 1st amendment protects the majority of speech but protecting people emotionally from the lie’s of others is in my opinion going a little too far.

  16. Calvin Ferguson said

    I don’t necessarily agree with this unless they are using the, “I received a medal for this in the war” to be part of something serious. I know that there are people that are out there lying everyday of the year, but there is nothing we can do about that. It’s free speech and people are going to say what they want to so they can feel more powerful than someone else. This has to due in my opinion to the person’s own moral and ethical values. I don’t see why someone should feel frustrated because someone is lying to try to sound as good the person who received the medal. Maybe they should think of it as an honor that someone would lie to try and sound as successful as them. People are going to do whatever they want, we aren’t going to be able to stop them.

  17. Gregory Rice said

    This story just makes me sick. I strongly agree with this law and hope the Supreme Court agrees in favor of it. It really grinds my gears that a person would lie about recieving a military award for personal benifit. This country is really becoming a sad place when people would not only disrespect their own service men who are helping fight for democracy, but also disrespect their own country. I’m not going to lie, if I was president, I would totally put this law in effect and made it so anyone who was charged with this law, be deported to some miserable place on the map. I come from a family of service men and we all have a very high respect for America’s finest, and I truly feel that anyone who would lie about such a thing is a bottom feeder who has the least respect for their country and doesn’t deserve the previledge of living in such an amazing country.

  18. Sam Haseltine said

    This story puzzles me slightly. I see how the falsifying of the possesion of war medals can make many people upset, but passing a law that cuases those of whom have said to be arrested seems a little over kill. I see that it is upsetting and something should be done to prevent the falsification or reprecautions to it but nothing as severe a encarceration. I think that it does conflict with the freedom speech due to the fact that people should be allowed to say anything due to the first ammendment and its allowance for freedome of speech. This freedom of speech allows for anything to be said even if it is offensive and unagreeable to many. This is sad that someone would do this but it is just a statement and is in no way actual threatening to those with actual metals.

  19. James Harvey said

    On July 1, 1993, the Congressional Record recognized Pueblo as the “Home of Heroes.” As the home of many veterans and four Medal of Honor recipients, it is and understatement to claim that Pueblo citizens have a reason to feel bitter towards those who have lied about their military honors. It comes as no surprise to me that the birth place of the Stolen Valor Act was indeed Pueblo when Pam Sterner wrote an essay in her class at what was then USC. Cases such as United States v. Alvarez where the supreme court ruled in favor of Alverez are seen as a blow to those who truly were honored veterans of this country. “Alvarez challenged the Stolen Valor Act as unconstitutional, in effect arguing that he had a right to lie. When his case reached the Supreme Court, the High Court sided with Alvarez in a 6-3 decision.” (Nudity, Fleeting Expletives and Lies) Though we have a First Amendment Right to free speech, there are definite moral and ethical implications to consider. Revisions to the First Amendment should be considered to avoid such controversies in the future. In my opinion, Alverez’s case should not have been ruled in his favor and the public should view him as a danger to our society. The foundational principles of this country are those of more integrity and respect! How dare ANYONE disrespect our countries military in such a way. Our military is made up of honorable men and women who are willing to risk their lives for the very principles that make the United States of America the most blessed Nation of the World. Alverez and others who lie about their military background are unethical, unmoral, manipulative, and discreditable. These actions should be punished and taken more seriously. God Bless America!

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