Jones: Stolen Valor Act should be protected
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 28, 2012 1:46 PM
U.S. Rep. Walter Jones
He supported the Stolen Valor Act nearly a decade ago, when Congress -- and later, President George W. Bush -- approved a law that made it a federal offense to falsely represent oneself as having received a military decoration or medal.
He condemned Wayne County resident Preston Garris for falsely claiming he earned a Silver Star as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam.
But now that the Supreme Court is weighing whether or not the 5-year-old law is constitutional, Congressman Walter Jones must sit on the sideline -- hoping, like dozens of local veterans, that freedom of speech doesn't apply to circumstances in which "people impersonate our heroes."
"You know, you can never, ever second guess the direction of where the Supreme Court is going, but my hope is that they will support the law that has passed the Congress," Jones said. "Anyone who has done something that this nation should revere ... should not have impersonators."
Signed into law in December 2006, the Stolen Valor Act allows federal courts to prosecute those who lie about having received any U.S. military decoration and states that if convicted, those charged could be imprisoned for up to six months -- if the decoration lied about were the Medal of Honor, the person charged could be imprisoned for up to one year.
But when Xavier Alvarez, a California man who claimed to have received the Medal of Honor, was convicted of lying in 2007 and sentenced to three years probation, a $5,000 fine and community service, his attorney argued the law was a violation of the First Amendment.
Jones doesn't believe that Americans who burn the flag should be protected by the freedom of speech granted by the Constitution.
And he feels the same way about stolen valor.
So even though it could take months for the court to rule on the arguments they heard just last week, the congressman vowed to never waver in his support for those service members, like his grandfather, who have sacrificed -- and continue to sacrifice -- to earn the decorations others lie about rating.
"To me, it's fraud. It is disrespecting those who served and those who died," he said. "It's absolutely wrong and I think it is disrespecting those who have fought for this country. That is why I supported the legislation when it was in the Congress.
"We should revere our veterans. We should revere those who have done things that most of us have not done. I'm talking about going to war. ... So my hope is, and my prayer, quite frankly, is that the Supreme Court will understand the need to respect those who have done so much for this country. Do not let people impersonate our heroes. It's just not right."