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A rose by any other name is just as thorny


When I set out to pen a column on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declaring the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional, one wag suggested the lede should say:

“As a Medal of Honor recipient myself, I can speak authoritatively …”

Now, I’m a bold believer in the First Amendment rights of free speech and press, but I’m not so sure enough judges are. If the two judges of the 9th are overturned on appeal, I would be subject to similar punishment as Californian Xavier Alvarez, who was sentenced to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000, for falsely claiming to be a Medal of Honor recipient.

I’ve since discovered that I might’ve phrased it a bit deceptively but arguably accurately by saying:

“As someone whose name is on a Medal of Honor certificate …”

Would that have violated the law?

On Oct. 18, 1884, Thomas Mitchell was awarded the Medal of Honor:

“For The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Landsman Thomas Mitchell, United States Navy, for gallant and heroic conduct while serving on board the U.S.S. Richmond. Landsman Mitchell rescued from drowning, M. F. Caulan, First Class Boy, serving with him on the same vessel, at Shanghai, China, 17 November 1879.”

That Thomas Mitchell died in 1942 at the age of 84 or 85 and is buried in Long Island National Cemetery, Suffolk County, New York.

Would that lede have triggered the law and its prohibition against damaging “the reputation and meaning of such decorations and medals”?

Does anyone really think less of a Medal of Honor or a Purple Heart because some fool falsely claims to have been awarded one?

   

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