Free speech is an important element of democratic society. But it is not an absolute.
As Justice Holmes argued many years ago, you do not have the right to shout fire in a crowded theater. You don’t have the right under free speech to walk into a crowded political convention in a clown suit to yell invectives at the President of the United States. And you don’t have the right to dress up in a DC policeman’s outfit and direct traffic on Constitution avenue.
Or perhaps you can under the new ruling of the Supreme Court.
Perhaps you can now yell fire in a crowded theater, and perhaps you get that clown suit and greet President Obama as he gives his speech at the Democratic convention or rent your DC policeman’s outfit and get in some traffic management time for your resume.
And all of this is might now be considered the exercise of free speech.
On the same day, that the Court ruled on Obamacare, they ruled on expanding free speech to impersonate medal of honor recipients.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the 1st Amendment “protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace.”
The decision came in the case of Xavier Alvarez, a former member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District governing board in eastern Los Angeles County.
At his first meeting, Alvarez said he was a former Marine and recipient of the Medal of Honor; in fact, he had never served in the military. After being charged under the Stolen Valor Act, he resigned from the board.
Alvarez’s lies “were but a pathetic attempt to gain respect that eluded him,” Kennedy said. “The statements do not seem to have been made to secure employment or financial benefits or admission to privileges reserved for those who had earned the medal.”
Alvarez pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act and was sentenced to three years’ probation, a $5,000 fine and community service. His attorneys appealed; the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the appeal, and the Justice Department petitioned the Supreme Court to reinstate the conviction.
Kevin Ainsworth, a New York lawyer and former Marine who filed a brief in the case on behalf of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, said veterans are feeling “disbelief and outrage that people who make these false claims are somehow protected by the constitution. I just cannot comprehend people who do that.”
But the ACLU applauded the decision as restraining the government from trying to limit free speech.
“Perfectly respectable people sometimes lie to protect their privacy, avoid hurt feelings, make others feel better, duck minor obligations, or protect themselves and others from prejudice,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU. “If the court had endorsed the government’s sweeping argument, the government could regulate all of these false statements, and even criminalize them.”
All of this is very confusing to Boomer.
Up to this point, Boomer thought that free speech was about your right to speak your mind, not lie through your teeth. He thought it was part of exercising your responsibilities as a citizen of a great democracy, not an absolute self-centered opportunity to do or say anything you want without regard to public safety and responsibility.
But in an I-age, I guess those ideas are just old fashioned. But then again, it seems that Boomer is old fashioned, and still honors America as a great country and enjoys celebrating national independence on July 4th, even though the Declaration was actually signed on July 2.
And he sees that day as a reminder of the sacred trust between the governed and the governors, and free speech is part of that bond, not a license to impersonate fallen heroes who have no voice but the living.
“When did dishonor and lying about being a Medal of Honor winner become the expression of free speech?” Boomer said out load to himself.
“I suppose now you can simply make these medals and give them out at medal of honor parties. And perhaps sell them on an 800 number like 800:Medal of Honor.”
“I am having difficulty understanding how a medal given by the government and only by the government to honor those serving their country is not a sacred trust. Why are folks who lie about this and dishonor those who hold the medals of honor and other military medals of distinction and mock the government which has been elected by the people relevant to free speech.
They are not only liars but undercut the values for which we fight. I guess next walking into the Supreme Court wearing Burkhas will be protected by free speech.”
To get away from it all, Boomer took an opportunity to have a drink with some fellow vets at the “Cap Grill” a bar restaurant between the Capital and the White House.
It was a friendly place where often politics could be discussed with only the sense of whimsy and humor people pick up having worked in DC over time.
So on the momentous day of the Supreme Court decided free speech protected folks who mock heroes, Boomer decided to cogitate with his friends about what all of this might mean.
While discussing this Boomer and his fellow Vets noticed a group of younger, fairly out of shape, individuals enter the Bar. Boomer and his buds were immediately in awe of the three men all around forty and all wearing the Congressional Medial of Honor and one had a Navy Cross, the other an Air Force Cross and the third the Army Distinguished Service Cross.
Boomer and his friends were amazed to be in the company of such courageous and selfless men.
Not wanting to be rude but they had to ask—How did you honorable gentlemen receive such great honors for valor?
The first man with the MOH and Navy Cross spoke up.
I received the Congressional Medial of Honor for shooting down 50 Japanese Zero Fighters at the Battle of Midway.
BUT you can not be over 40? Boomer asked. But he was forcefully corrected by the hero: Don’t you see my AARP button I am really 90?
it tells you that-how can you contradict the Marine who after winning the Battle of Midway, carried Chesty Puller out of the Frozen Chosen on his back during the Korean War—that is why I received a Navy Cross. Boomer and his friends were getting very confused.
Then the second Medial Of Honor recipient spoke up—I received my CMH for teaching General Robin Olds how to attack NVA Migs and when he was hit and shot down I ejected next to him and carried him out of Vietnam. I had to attack and wipe out a Company of NVA when we were crossing the DMZ .
Boomer had met General Olds, a West Point football star and if this out of shape pogue was bragging he saved his life.
Boomer became extremely confused. Nothing was making any sense.
Perhaps the Army veteran could clarify what was happening.
So Boomer and his drinking companions asked –and what did you do SIR?
I got my CMH for capturing Saddam Hussain single handily and then personally hanging him. The DSC was for infiltrating into Iran and destroying all their reactors—but it was all classified.
Now Boomer was worried something was not right.
Could they all need medical assistance?
Fortunately, a woman with a seathescope around her neck and white Doctors coat on was at a nearby table. She noticed the visible distress in Boomer and his friends because they thought they were losing their minds.
So she asked if she could render assistance.
Boomer asked, what kind of Doctor are you?
She replied: I cured all cancer and just received the Nobel with President Obama.
This amount of information was getting seriously weird.
So Boomer wanted to ask someone in Law Enforcement and fortunately there was a man wearing a NYPD Detective Shield. Boomer asked him if he was actually LE-the man said yes he was on a special mission for Mayor Bloomberg because the NYPD “Major Case” Squad was chasing a lead about a DC gang smuggling 32 ounce cups to NYC.
Now it was awful Boomer did not know what to think.
Fortunately a man and women with visible FBI credentials were also near by—Can you believe all this Boomer asked. They were quick to respond-after we shot John Dillinger we are ready for anything.
This was all to much-Boomer and he and his friends had had enough.
Fortunately, a man introduced himself as a U.S. Senator from Connecticut. He wanted to explain the law and the first Amendment. Listening to a Senator made sense so Boomer asked him what did he know about the military.
Senator Blumenthal a Democrat from Connecticut said—It is easy to explain, after I personally liberated Hue City during Tet I returned to arrest Bernie and then the good people of Connecticut elected me.
So please believe all the people you have met today-they all have a future in Politics.
Boomer likes the First Amendment and thinks Justice Kennedy, just like Chief Justice Roberts are wise men: It is up to American’s to think and act for themselves.
“Though few might find respondent’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,” Justice Kennedy said.
So Boomer and his mates decided to join in the fun.
They went off to buy some justicing clothes and then used their government passes to sit in the Supreme Court bench and began giving their rulings on weighty decisions of the day.
After all they were just exercising their free speech.