Republican Congressmen Re-Launch Revised ‘Stolen Valor’ Bill
(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) called on Congress Tuesday to pass a reformulated version of the 2006 “Stolen Valor Act” – a law that the Supreme Court overturned June 28 as “unconstitutional on the grounds that it sought to stifle certain free speech.”
The original law made it a misdemeanor to lie about receiving military service awards or medals.
At a Capitol Hill news conference, Brown, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Heck, a House Armed Services Committee member, re-launched their 2011 version of the “Stolen Valor Act.”
The bill would, according to Rep. Heck, “stand up to constitutional scrutiny by punishing material benefits gained by lying about military service and awards.”
If passed, Heck said, the new bill would still make it illegal for an individual to benefit from lying about military service or awards won, but unlike the previous legislation, the revision includes two new parts.
“The bill would cover issues ranging from lying to receive veterans and health-care benefits or obtaining a government contract, to getting a job reserved for a veteran,” he said.
“Additionally, the bill contains a de minimis clause that states these penalties would not apply to someone who, for example, received an item of nominal value -- like a drink at a bar -- for telling an embellished war tale,” Heck added.
In striking down the law, the Supreme Court said that the speech involved was too broad, and the law infringed upon the First Amendment.
“Content-based restrictions on speech have been permitted only for a few historic categories of speech, including incitement, obscenity, defamation, speech integral to criminal conduct, so-called ‘fighting words,’ child pornography, fraud, true threats, and speech presenting some grave and imminent threat the Government has the power to prevent,” the Court wrote.
“The Act seeks to control and suppress all false statements on this one subject in almost limitless times and settings without regard to whether the lie was made for the purpose of material gain. Permitting the Government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable. That governmental power has no clear limiting principle.”
There are currently 69 co-sponsors of the legislation and Sen. Brown called for more support in Congress. He stressed that this should be a nonpartisan issue.
“This is not a controversial matter,” Brown said. “Every member of Congress should join us in making sure that the dishonorable people who profit from the service and sacrifice of our heroes are held accountable.”
“I believe it’s wrong and cowardly for people to make fraudulent statements in order to receive distinctions that they have not actually earned and we need to ensure that no one can benefit from making false claims and steal the true valor of the deserving few,” Brown said.
Officer Mark L. Donald spoke about his experience as the recipient of the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and many more awards.
A now-retired Marine and Medical Service Corps officer, Donald spoke about his experiences and the value that military honors have to him and others who serve the country.
“Those awards represent everything, the totality of the events, and their families hold those dear. The awards represent character. They represent the character of the individual; they represent the character of the unit, the character of the service, character of the country,” Donald said.
The police officer urged the American people to rally behind the bill.
“This [bill] is the foundation for what’s going to fix this problem and I really think that if we go forward with this and its put forward in a manner to target, as it has been written, those who are abusing it for personal gain, all of us as free Americans can back this.”
American Legion member Dean F. Stoline told CNSNews.com that his organization was upset with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“We’re a resolution based organization,” Stoline said. “Currently we have a resolution coming to our national convention next month in August in Indianapolis that’s going to support the bills for the congressman and for the senator.
"We just believe that the awardees should not be faced with people who have lied about their service. We’re trying to protect that and we’re trying to protect our veterans and our active duty service people by supporting this bill.”
Heck, meanwhile, said that even though the law was declared unconstitutional, there is still a chance for a revision of the bill to gain Supreme Court approval.
“Associate Justice Stephen Breyer left the door open to a valid congressional action in his concurring opinion, which stated ‘a more finely tailored statute that shows the false statement caused specific harm or was at least material could significantly reduce the threat of first amendment harm,’” Heck said.
The bill is currently at the committee level.