Opinion: When Big Brother holds onto the Medal of Honor

Seth Cohen

Seth Cohen

Seth Cohen is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Let’s talk about something a bit unusual in the media spotlight. Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court expressed the utmost respect toward our military. Let me specify a little further. The Supreme Court expressed empathy toward U.S. military decorations, specifically, the Medal of Honor, questioning whether falsely claiming to have received the medal should be a federal offense.

That’s right, if you lie about being awarded the Medal of Honor, you could face probation, community service and my favorite, $5,000 in fines under the 2006 Stolen Valor Act, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s interesting, it’s scary and it questions how far is too far when we start dealing with the First Amendment.

A man in California who said he had acquired the Medal of Honor was charged under the act, but a federal appeals court threw out the conviction citing First Amendment protection. Lucky the accused didn’t feel the full effect of this government policing everybody’s speech like Big Brother.

Even Chief Justice John Roberts finds it ridiculous for the nation’s speech to be criminalized by saying “Yeah, I won the Medal of Honor. No big deal.” Granted, he finds it unethical, but finds it too far and unnecessary to follow.

“Well, where does it stop?” Justice Roberts said.

The Chief Justice even suggested the government criminalize lying about receiving a high school diploma. Don’t worry, he was kidding. Absent evidence fraud—using a lie to persuade someone else to act to their detriment—has generally held that lying is protected, Mark Goodman said, professor of journalism and mass communication.

It’s an interesting debate, though: If you can lie about receiving one of the highest honors in the military, then clearly, you want to be remembered. This California man did a great job being remembered, only he didn’t expect this. What he did was completely appalling and ludicrous, but for his lie to yield a criminal record is borderline frightening.

Imagine you’re with your friends, going out to eat and having a nice conversation. Average, normal, nothing new, right? Well, picture this; your friend lies to you about getting a job with a corporate company. Uh-oh, this means he could be committing a federal offense about lying to be with a company that has governmental ties, which also means he would have to pay for his crime, should he get caught.

We live in a society that conspired against, or for, the First Amendment. Freedom of Speech has its limits, such as personally threatening someone and/or the oldest example in the book, shouting “fire” in a movie theater. The U.S. military is hard-working, and that will always be the case no matter what people say. But competing military respect, or pretending to hold a medal of honor, is an act that will always be remembered. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shine my Medal of Honor. It’s getting dusty.