Today, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States voted to overturn the Stolen Valor Act by upholding the decision of the 9th Circuit Court, in the case of the United States vs. Alvarez. Originally tried in a California court, Mr. Alvarez was convicted for claiming to be a retired Marine with 25 years of military service and a recipient of both the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart Medal. Alvarez, who never actually served in the military, later appealed the decision and won in the 9th Circuit Court on the basis that the 2005 Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In defending the law, the Obama administration had argued that “military awards serve as public symbols of honor and prestige, conveying the nation’s gratitude for acts of valor and sacrifice; and they foster morale… and esprit de corps within the military. False claims to have received military awards undermine the system’s ability to fulfill these purposes,” and “make the public skeptical of all claims to have received awards….” By its decision, the Supreme Court has made clear that, while “contemptible” and worthy of outrage and ridicule, the right to lie about valor, heroism, and the receipt of military decorations is protected by the 1st Amendment
Reacting to the news, MOPH National Commander Bill Hutton said, “While disappointed in this decision, The Military Order of the Purple Heart has always been and remains a staunch supporter of the U.S. Constitution and the individual citizen’s right to freedom of speech. All of our members, who proudly wear the Purple Heart Medal, regard the award as a testament of their willingness to sacrifice their lives in the defense of the freedoms that all Americans enjoy.” According to Hutton, “as the Congress originally considered the Stolen Valor Act, the MOPH was one of only two Veteran Service Organizations invited to join in a press conference to announce the legislation and wholeheartedly supported its passage.” He noted, “In their dissension with the Court’s decision, Justices Alioto, Scalia and Thomas said, “The Stolen Valor Act follows a long tradition of efforts to protect our country’s system of military honors. When George Washington, as the commander of the Continental Army, created the very first ‘honorary badges of distinction’ for service in our country’s military, he established a rigorous system to ensure that these awards would be received and worn by only the truly deserving. (See General Orders of George Washington Issued at Newburgh on the Hudson, 1782–1783, p. 35 & 36) Washington warned that anyone with the ‘insolence to assume’ a badge that had not actually been earned would be ‘severely punished’.”
In keeping with George Washington’s admonition, The MOPH recommends that the Congress not consider this a closed case. Even in its decision to overturn the Stolen Valor Act, the High Court said “I believe the statute nonetheless has substantial justification. It seeks to protect the interests of those who have sacrificed their health and life for their country. The statute serves this interest by seeking to preserve intact the country’s recognition of that sacrifice in the form of military honors. To permit those who have not earned those honors to claim otherwise dilutes the value of the awards. Indeed, the Nation cannot fully honor those who have sacrificed so much for their country’s honor unless those who claim to have received its military awards tell the truth.” The MOPH joins the Court in urging the Congress to draft a more restrictive bill that still preserves the intent of the Stolen Valor Act while not infringing on the individual’s right to freedom of speech.
The organization now known as the “Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. Inc.,” (MOPH) was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all who have received the decoration. Chartered by the Congress, The MOPH is unique among Veteran Service Organizations in that all its members were wounded in combat. For this sacrifice, they were awarded the Purple Heart Medal. With grants from the MOPH Service Foundation, the MOPH a and its Ladies Auxiliary promote Patriotism, Fraternalism, and the Preservation of America’s military history. Most importantly, they provide comfort and assistance to all Veterans and their families, especially those requiring claims assistance with the VA, those who are homeless, and those requiring employment assistance. Through the VAVS program, MOPH volunteers provide assistance to hospitalized veterans at VA sites and State Veterans Homes.
For information contact:
National Public Relations Director, John Bircher, 352-753-5535