(CNS) – In a case sparked by a Pomona man’s tall tales about service as a decorated U.S. Marine, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down the Stolen Valor Act, which made it unlawful to falsely claim to have been awarded a military honor. The law, passed by Congress in 2005 and signed by President George W. Bush, called for a possible one-year prison term.
At the root of the case are comments that Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, who was an elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board, made at a board meeting in 2007, when he said he was a retired Marine who had been “wounded many times” and had been awarded the Medal of Honor in 1987.
Alvarez, who had never served in the armed forces, pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act but claimed his false statements – including what his attorneys called any “exaggerated anecdotes, barroom braggadocio, and cocktail party puffery” — were constitutionally protected.
He was sentenced to three years probation, a $5,000 fine and community service. But an appeal filed by his attorneys was upheld by the 9th Circuit of Appeals, prompting the U.S. Justice Department to turn to the Supreme Court.
The Obama administration argued that military awards serve as public symbols of honor and prestige, conveying the nation’s gratitude for acts of valor, and foster morale. But the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the right to lie about medals is protected by the 1st Amendment.