In a ruling largely overshadowed by the national health care bill, the Supreme Court last week declared that it is not illegal to fake military honors and awards.
The case arose from the prosecution of Xavier Alvarez, a public official who claimed that he had received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, after being wounded in action as a Marine.
Alvarez had been charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act, a 2006 law that made it a crime to falsely claim "to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States." Alvarez admitted that his statements were false, but claimed that his lies were free speech protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed with him and overturned the law.
Though there are relatively few people who claim to have falsely received the Medal of Honor, there are many who have exaggerated or lied about their military past. Veteran actor Brian Dennehy, known for tough-guy roles in films like First Blood and Assault on Precinct 13, for many years told harrowing war stories about being wounded in action during one of his five tours in the jungles of Vietnam. In fact Dennehy was not wounded in the military and never saw battle in Vietnam; he later apologized for fabricating his past.