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Federal Court Affirms SCOTUS Precedent that ‘Stolen Valor’ is Protected Speech

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a veteran’s conviction Monday for wearing military medals he did not earn, ruling that it is protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The specially convened 11-judge panel affirmed Supreme Court precedent that says people are allowed to wear military medals and claim military accomplishments even if it is a lie.

Elven Joe Swisher was convicted in 2007 of violating the Stolen Valor Act, a law that made it a misdemeanor to falsely claim military accomplishments. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 2012 as a violation of the First Amendment and free speech protections.

Swisher was investigated after he testified in a 2005 trial that a man tried to solicit him to kill a federal judge. He wore a Purple Heart on the witness stand, a medal given to soldiers wounded or killed in battle.

According to the Military Times, prosecutors say Swisher enlisted in the Marine Corp. a year after the Korean War ended, was honorably discharged in 1957, but discharge documents show that he didn’t earn any medals during his service and was never wounded in the line of duty. During his 2007 trial, prosecutors showed jurors a picture of Swisher wearing several medals, “including the Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Ribbon, Purple Heart, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Bronze ‘V.'”

A year after the Stolen Valor Act was struck down by the Supreme Court, Congress passed a new law that made it illegal to profit financially by lying about military service or falsely claiming military accomplishments.

Photo Credit: Andy Dean Photography / shutterstock.com

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Jeff Marston
Jeff Marston

Legal, protected, yeah--as it is shameful.

Albert P
Albert P

It is a dishonorable and despicable act, but at the same time it is hard to argue that it shouldn't be considered protected free speech. I think an interesting roundtable would be a thorough discussion on where we draw the line on free speech.


I think the shame associated with impersonating a vet should be more than enough of a punishment.