When it comes to war and veterans, politicians can’t seem to get enough of either. In the United States, there is a long, rich tradition of going to war in instances where national security is not at risk. Of course, this hardly prevents our leaders from portraying the fate of Vietnam or Iraq as vital to the national security of the U.S. to a fearful public. Then after they’ve successfully hoodwinked Americans into believing in the necessity and righteousness of marching off to war once again, they constantly remind us how we all owe our soldiers a debt of gratitude. And pity the poor citizen who dares to question the legitimacy or worthiness of the cause, lest he be accused of not supporting the troops, even though were it up to him, the troops would be far from harm’s way.
Ron Paul will no doubt receive criticism for his vote Thursday against the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a federal crime to lie about having served in the U.S. military in order to "obtain something of value." A previous version enacted into law was struck down by the Supreme Court in June, after justices deemed the law too vague and all-encompassing. So in response, Congress has recalibrated the legislation to address the court’s concerns, and the new Stolen Valor Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 410 to 3. Voting with Paul against the bill were Democrat George Miller of California and Republican Justin Amash of Michigan.
It is truly astounding that a vast majority of our federal lawmakers believe it’s the province of the federal government to act as a regulator of truth and lies. However, no provision in the Constitution gives Congress the power to punish the utterance of lies or have oversight authority over the speech of private citizens in general. Even more crucially, the First Amendment explicitly guarantees the right to every citizen the freedom of speech. It does not say that only speech that is true is protected, and indeed, the long, illustrious history of American jurisprudence has affirmed this basic principle time and again, even in cases where the speech in question is incendiary.
If this bill passes — and it probably will because politicians love to show how much they support the troops and veterans — one can only hope it is struck down again; not because lying about having served in the military is acceptable behavior, but because freedom of speech is only meaningful if we’re willing to stand up even for that speech we find to be vile, false, and morally wrong.