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Stolen Valor Act protects veterans

Posted: August 3, 2012 - 12:03am

Our men and women in uniform take a solemn vow to protect the country we love and to put their lives on the line in order to allow us all to possess the freedoms envied by the rest of the world. They deserve our honor, they deserve our respect, support and prayers. They do not deserve to have their service and sacrifice devalued and desecrated by impostors.

That’s why I joined more than thirty other Senators to support the Stolen Valor Act sponsored by Senator Scott Brown (R-MA). The bill would make it a crime to knowingly misrepresent military service if a person wanted to profit from their lie. If convicted of a fraudulent claim concerning service in a combat zone, service in a special operations force, or being awarded the Medal of Honor, an offender can be jailed up to a year and fined.

I feel this is an appropriate action that Congress can take to preserve the integrity of our armed forces and show gratitude to our veterans — in these times more than most. Each of these heroes has sacrificed in countless ways through their service to this country. Whether it’s the weeks, months or years spent away from family, the holidays missed while deployed, or the danger faced through countless combat patrols, our troops have earned the respect of our nation. Thousands of them have endured multiple deployments, which take a harrowing toll on their families. They have laid down their lives for their countrymen.

We have an obligation to honor the contribution these loyal Americans have made by ensuring the nobility of their profession. It truly is a small sign of thanks to over 2 million veterans who have deployed in the service of our country just since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. Our state alone is home to more than 75,000 brave veterans, the highest per capita population of veterans in the country. Every time someone steps forward to falsely portray themselves as the picture of bravery, the value of true heroism takes a hit.

Some of you reading may pause and say, “Wait, isn’t this a law already?” My response: well, it was. Just last month, the Supreme Court, in United States v. Alvarez, ruled that the original Stolen Valor Act of 2005 violated the free speech rights of those making false claims about winning the Medal of Honor and other combat citations.

The majority from the Court made the argument that “falsity alone may not suffice to bring the speech outside the First Amendment.” The court decided that for the law to be constitutional, it must be more limited, for example, to a lie that was made for the “purpose of material gain.” This concept goes back to America’s founders, whose belief in the freedom of speech was a keystone of our republic — even that speech that we find offensive. So while lying may be protected, profiting from a falsehood — let alone one that is an affront to those very protections — is not. So Congress is going back to bat.

A new Stolen Valor Act should close the loophole in the previous law. The new law will condemn attempts to benefit by lying about military service or detract from an honored veteran’s accomplishments. The operative word here is “benefit.” So in the future, anyone attempting to gain any benefit from a lie about service — be it a job, a donation, or scholarship for his kid — will be acting illegally.

It is my hope that a new bill will be signed into law in appreciation of our veterans for their dedication.

• Murkowski is Alaska’s senior senator in the U.S. Senate. This column originally appeared in the Peninsula Clarion newspaper.

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