Rick Duncan was a politician's dream. A former Marine Corps Captain and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, he was awarded the Purple Heart due to combat injuries he sustained from an IED while serving on one of his three tours in Iraq. Mr. Duncan, with his unassailable credentials, served as the perfect mouthpiece for anti-Iraq War candidates during the 2008 elections. He took center stage and spoke with authority about the failed Bush policies in Iraq, commanding attention from politicians, reporters, and even other veterans. For almost two years, Duncan continued to be a fierce anti-war advocate, creating the Colorado Veterans Alliance and speaking at length about the plight of his brethren.
But there was a problem with Rick Duncan. He did not actually earn the Purple Heart, go to Annapolis, or serve even one tour of duty. In fact, he had never served one day in the military. His name was not even Rick Duncan; rather, it was Rick Strandlof and he was a total fraud. For his lies, Strandlof was convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act.
This Act, as codified in Title 18, Section 704 of the United States Code, makes it a crime to lie about having received a military award such as the Purple Heart or the Medal of Honor. The law has its origins in history dating back to the Founding Fathers, but it is now being challenged before the Supreme Court on the grounds that it infringes upon free speech rights. Strandlof's was one of the first cases to be overturned by a Denver federal judge, on the grounds that the statute was "facially unconstitutional" as a violation of the First Amendment.
This law, though, does not restrict the free speech protected by the First Amendment, because lies are inherently fraudulent. Fraud, alongside obscenity and incitement, is among the categories of speech recognized by the Supreme Court whose "prevention and punishment . . . have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem." A statute that punishes fraud therefore comports with First Amendment freedoms. As the name of the Act implies, every lie about a military honor defrauds true heroes and American society, polluting the very meaning of heroism and causing harms that Congress can constitutionally criminalize.
(Image via Steve Cukrov /Shutterstock.com)