By Shane Young
The Supreme Court’s June 28 decision to overturn the Stolen Valor Act on the basis of a violation of the First Amendment is a win for both liberty and the Free Market of transactions. The Stolen Valor Act made falsely claiming to have received military decoration a federal misdemeanor.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the law violated free speech protections.
“The nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace,” he said. “Though few might find (Alvarez’s) statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. The Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment.”
In response to the ruling that the Stolen Valor Act violated free speech, supporters of the law in Congress are reintroducing legislation that would make it a crime to “benefit from lying about military honors, rather than criminalizing the lies themselves.”
As individuals, we have a right to self-ownership, and this includes what we choose to say and what we choose to wear. There are, however, consequences for those in the Free Market who choose to lie. For example, if I choose to trade a lie about having received military decoration in exchange for a job or some monetary benefit, the persons with whom I traded, upon realizing that I have lied, are justified in taking back whatever they have given me, in addition to any potential loss they might have undergone in relation to my lie.
If someone pays me to speak at a banquet under the understanding that I am a decorated soldier, and then finds out that I’m not really a decorated soldier, they may be justified in not only revoking any payment but also having me pay for the food and banquet. Likewise, if I trade a lie about having received military decoration in exchange for non-monetary things such as respect or admiration, things that may belong to those who have actually received military decoration, the persons with whom I traded, upon realizing that I have lied, are justified in taking back their respect and admiration, in addition to their trust in future things I may say.
Beyond this, however, all we are left with is an individual and his or her self and speech. Once we begin to punish people for saying something or dressing a certain way, beyond whatever monetary or non-monetary loss such speech or dress has caused other individuals, it is we who are infringing upon the rights and property of others. This is not to say that posing as decorated military personnel when you’re not is something to be condoned, but rather that the Free Market should decide the fate of those who lie, not the government.
If we wish to avoid falling victim to lies about military decoration, it is up to us as individuals to demand some sort of authentication (this holds true for most things in life). If we do this, I believe we will find that the Free Market of transactions has a very efficient, and just, way of greatly limiting any benefits that may come as a result of falsely claiming to have received military decoration.
Shane Young is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.