Monday, February 20, 2012

We've lost sight of the intent...

...of many of the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.  This 'controversy' is just the latest proof:
Xavier Alvarez stood up at a public meeting and called himself a wounded war veteran who had received the top military award, the Medal of Honor. He was lying about his medal, his wounds and his military service, but he wasn't the first man to invent war exploits.
He was, however, one of the first people prosecuted under a 2006 federal law aimed at curbing false claims of military valor.
Concerns that the law improperly limits speech and turns people into criminals for things they say, rather than do, are at the heart of the Supreme Court's review of his case and the Stolen Valor Act...
Civil liberties groups, writers, publishers and news media outlets, including The Associated Press, have told the justices they worry the law, and especially the administration's defense of it, could lead to more attempts by government to regulate speech.
Freedom of speech and expression protects opinions and matters of taste and style upon which people can honestly disagree.  I sincerely doubt anyone can find evidence the Framers intended it to protest blatant deception (even though that has become the defining characteristic of our political process). 

The several protections afforded by the First Amendment are meant to keep government from placing a thumb on the scale of weighing the credibility of information.  It permits vigorous public debate, serving the purpose of allowing people to weigh facts and opinions to reach informed conclusions.  

The problem today is people want "free expression" to mean they can say the first thing that comes to mind, without the possibility of any consequences.  That's a drastic expansion of scope, and one that dilutes the function of the First Amendment.  Case in point: I still think the Dixie Chicks were relatively entertaining musicians a few years ago.  That they chose to criticize the sitting President while out of the country -- something they could reasonably have expected their natural fan base to have an issue with -- resulted in a loss of popularity and revenue.  They were quick to cry "censorship."  Um, no... your potential customers freely expressed their opinion by choosing not to purchase your music.  You exercised your right; they exercised theirs. 

It's interesting the AP and others worry this is criminalizing what people say rather than what they do, as if speech isn't an action.  Making false official statements in court or other official venues is already a crime.  If someone lists false qualifications on a resume, we understand an employer letting them go.  So why is it difficult to understand that someone giving the false idea they have earned the nation's accolades might draw the official sanction of the grantor of such?  

Nobody's saying you can't express you're a quadruple-amputee, thrice-wounded veteran of Navy Seal Team Foxtrot Alfa Kilo Echo.  What we're saying is that when it's obvious you're full of it, don't be surprised if people choose to hold you to account. I think, however, that imprisonment isn't the right course of action here.  Let the punishment fit the crime.  In addition to a fine, those convicted of this offense should be sentenced to community service: specifically, to service in a Veterans Administration facility or with a Veterans' organization, where they can be confronted first-hand with the very valor they were trying to steal.

They might learn something... and isn't rehabilitation and restitution supposed to be key functions of the justice system?

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