|For Immediate Release
August 1, 2012
Contact: Charlotte Sellmyer, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Full Committee Markup of
H.R. 1775, the Stolen Valor Act of 2011
Chairman Smith: H.R. 1775, the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, was introduced by our colleague from Nevada, Mr. Heck. I thank him for his work on this issue to protect the integrity of military decorations.
On a bombing mission over Germany in November 1944, twenty-two year old Second Lieutenant William E. Metzger, Jr. found himself faced with a critical decision: stay on a seriously damaged aircraft or abandon his injured crew-mates and parachute to safety. Lieutenant Metzger chose the former – the path of loyalty, courage and patriotism.
Hit with anti-aircraft fire, three of the plane’s engines were damaged and the fourth was on fire. So was the cockpit. And the radio had been destroyed. Two crew mates were injured, one unconscious. Despite all of this, the crew flew on to complete its mission.
When the plane reached allied-controlled territory, Lieutenant Metzger told his crew to parachute to safety. He, however, chose to remain with the unconscious crewmember and the pilot to try to land the plane. But, at an altitude of 100 feet, the plane exploded, crashed and then disintegrated. All three on board, including Lieutenant Metzger, were killed.
On May 16, 1945, Second Lieutenant Metzger was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor -- a symbol of his loyalty to his injured crew, his determination to accomplish his mission and his last act of bravery.
George Washington, as commander of the Continental Army, created the first honorary badges of distinction for military service. He cautioned that anyone with the “insolence to assume” a badge that he did not earn would be severely punished.
Nearly a century ago, Congress made it a crime to wear, manufacture or sell military decorations or medals without authorization. In 2006, Congress enacted the Stolen Valor Act in response to an escalation in the number of fraudulent claims of receipt of military decorations, particularly the Medal of Honor.
In June, the Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Alvarez, held that the Act inappropriately criminalized speech protected by the First Amendment. Simply put, a lie – even a lie about being awarded the Medal of Honor – is protected speech.
The Court was quick to note that “in periods of war and peace alike public recognition of valor and noble sacrifice by men and women in uniform reinforces the pride and national resolve that the military relies upon to fulfill its mission.”
The Court also acknowledged that false claims about military decorations such as the Medal of Honor demean the high purpose of the award and may offend the true holders of the Medal.
This harm does not overcome the high level of scrutiny afforded protected speech. The Court added, however, that “where false claims are made to affect a fraud or secure moneys or other valuable considerations, say offers of employment, it is well established that the Government may restrict speech without affronting the First Amendment.”
H.R. 1775, the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, clarifies the law to prohibit false claims of receipt of the Medal of Honor and other military decorations to carry out a fraud. In a moment, our colleague, Mr. Griffin, will offer a substitute amendment to further modify the bill in response to the Alvarez decision.
This legislation reaffirms Congress’ respect and gratitude to the men and women of the Armed Forces. It continues our long-standing commitment to protect the prestige of military decorations awarded to honor the valor and sacrifice of our military heroes. And it ensures that those who seek to exploit these medals for fraudulent gain are held accountable.
I again thank our colleague from Nevada, Mr. Heck, for his leadership on this issue. Without objection, the statement for the record by the sponsor of H.R. 1775, Mr. Heck, will be included in the record. And I urge my colleagues to support this bill.