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Give this judge a medal

July 20, 2010 | 11:58 am

A federal judge in Colorado has struck down a law that is typical of legislation that runs afoul of the 1st Amendment: It was both politically popular and unnecessary. The Stolen Valor Act made it a crime to claim falsely to have received medals and other military decorations.

As The Times observed in an editorial in February: The law "would criminalize speech that, although admittedly offensive, is far removed from the kind of serious crime -- such as extortion, fraud or incitement to riot -- in which speech merges into harmful conduct and may therefore be outlawed. And if Congress can make it a crime to lie about or exaggerate one's military record, why wouldn't it be constitutional to criminalize misrepresentation about educational attainments or the circumstances of one's birth?"

The judge likewise focused on free-speech issues. He also offered a pithy reply to the argument that misrepresentations about receiving military decorations diluted their significance: "This wholly unsubstantiated assertion is frankly, shocking and indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor," Judge Robert Blackburn wrote. "To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension."

A more practical objection to the law is that, thanks to the Internet, it is easy to find out if someone is "stealing honor." For example, the names of Medal of Honor recipients can be accessed at a convenient website. And if a military resume-padder is a public official, the odds are even better that he will be caught in a lie. Just ask Richard Bluementhal, the U.S. Senate candidate who wrongly claimed to have served in Vietnam -- and was outed by the New York Times.

-- Michael McGough

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