Embellishing one's military record is shameful, but does it rise to the level of a criminal act?
We stand with those two dozen news organizations that have filed briefs questioning the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act, which imposes criminal penalties, including jail time, for those found guilty of lying about their military service. Even Solicitor General Donald Verrilli in arguing on behalf of the law before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, conceded it might start justices down the "slippery slope" of having to distinguish acceptable lies from criminal ones.
Lying under oath is, of course, against the law, as are false statements uttered to commit fraud. But rather than impose further limits on freedom of speech, we'd prefer to leave punishment for most lies to society rather than the courts.
The sentiment behind the Stolen Valor Act is commendable, but it establishes a precedent that puts all of the First Amendment at risk.
Those who claim undeserved military honors in pursuit of political or career goals deserve the disdain heaped upon them when that lie is discovered. But such lies, criminal or not, can't in any way diminish the great honor that comes from having received a medal or other citation for exceptional service to one's country.