United States Marine Corps Sergeant Dakota Meyer said, “When they told me that I would be receiving the Medal of Honor I told them that I didn’t want it, because I don’t feel like a hero.” This statement reflects the feelings of many real war heroes who deserve and are given recognition yet feel that they are unworthy of such accolades. Unfortunately, there are also individuals who want the recognition of being a war hero but lie about having served. Nevertheless, the First Amendment will continue to guarantee the freedom of speech of those who lie about unearned military honors unless the government can establish a compelling interest and pass narrowly tailored legislation to effectuate that interest. In this context, the compelling government interest is to protect tangible benefits for veterans from people who lie about military service in an attempt to falsely obtain those benefits. Although there are a limited number of permissible content-based restrictions under the First Amendment—inciting imminent lawless action, defamation, speech integral to criminal conduct, child pornography, and actual threats—false statements about military awards are not included on that list. With that in mind, the Supreme Court held in United States v. Alvarez that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which made it a crime for anyone to make false claims about receipt of military decorations or medals, was an unconstitutional infringement on protected First Amendment speech. Both the Senate and the House, in response to the ruling, proposed amending legislation to the Stolen Valor Act. Each amending bill has its own advantages and disadvantages, but a more refined combination of the two bills will be necessary in order for a new Act to be effective and constitutional.

Citation Note

This Comment was originally cited as Volume 2 of the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform Online. Volumes 1, 2, and 3 of MJLR Online have been renumbered 45, 46, and 47 respectively. These updated Volume numbers correspond to their companion print Volumes. Additionally, the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform Online was renamed Caveat in 2015.