Outlaw the theft of honor

Often the worst aspect of fraud isn’t financial loss but a breach of trust in common decency and self-respect.

This is the case with military decorations that some choose to wear without earning them through the selfless military service such medals reflect.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2006 rightly made it a crime, punishable by up to one year in jail, to wear or claim to have won a military medal without actually having done so. Despite recent challenges, this law should be enforced and defended.

Last week, rulings in California and Colorado struck down attempts to enforce the ban because the courts found it violated the right to free speech. Government lawyers have already discussed plans to appeal the ruling and the issue is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Opponents of the law deem it unnecessary and politically motivated.

“There’s already a considerable deterrent for people who are engaged in this kind of conduct,” Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor, said to the Associated Press. “Many of these people are charged with fraud. If someone is only wearing medals without seeking any form of gain, it becomes highly questionable.”

Fraud charges are certainly a deterrent for those who wish to accumulate financial gain by imitating medal recipients, but they are not enough to deter those with ulterior motives. Value is not always measured in a monetary sense.

Financial benefits do not prompt the selfless acts of heroism that earn these medals, and the subsequent rewards and decorations are also not monetary in nature.

The value of these medals is in the pride, respect and honor that are bestowed upon those who don them – priceless traits that cannot be bought, but can certainly be stolen.

Many across the country have already been prosecuted under the law, including Xavier Alavarez, a Pomona, Calif., water board official, who faked earning the Medal of Honor even though he never served in the military. His appeal eventually led to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling last week that challenged the law.

These individuals are thieves of an especially sinister kind, the type who victimize the recipients of their lies and all American citizens, servicemen and women and the sacrifices they’ve made.

While protecting free speech is important, and a reason why many in the military first enlist, these rights are still limited.

One must not have the right to make a mockery of America’s highest decorations for its citizens.

Higher courts and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, must rule in favor of protecting honor from those who wish to steal it.