Supreme Court said false claims are protected speech
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- Jack Jacobs can proudly -- and truthfully -- say he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor in Vietnam. After a recent Supreme Court ruling, anyone else is free under the First Amendment to make the same claim, whether it's true or not.
Some military veterans say they consider the ruling a slap in the face. For Jacobs, though, it was the right decision. He said he wore the uniform to protect people's rights -- even if he doesn't agree with how they exercise those rights.
"There are lots of things people do that revolt me, but I'm happy that I fought for this country not to give them the right to do something stupid, but for the majority of the people to do the right thing," said Jacobs, 66, who earned the Medal of Honor in 1969 for carrying several of his buddies to safety from a shelled rice field despite the shrapnel wounds in his head, the streaming blood clouding his vision.
"I'm a free-speech guy," he said.
The high court ruled 6 to 3 on Thursday to toss out the conviction of Xavier Alvarez, a former California politician who lied about being a decorated military veteran. He had been charged under the 2006 Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to lie about receiving the Medal of Honor and other prestigious military recognitions. The decision invalidated the law, as the justices ruled Alvarez's fabricated story was constitutionally protected speech.
For Murel Winans, 87, lies about service can cause real harm and lead people to doubt the veracity of claims made by people who actually served during wartime. He said he didn't buy the free-speech argument.
"You feel like you never earned it, because when you tell someone what you've done, they'll say, 'you're lying just like those other guys,' " said Winans, who described himself as a "fresh young hillbilly from West Virginia" when he landed on Normandy's Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 - his 19th birthday.