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Locals speak out on Stolen Valor Act Decision

Pentagon to create database detailing military awards
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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When Jay Blake and his fellow veterans discuss the ribbons they received while serving, it means something. His Expeditionary Ribbon was one tangible reward he received for serving his country in a combat zone and ultimately a symbol of the sacrifices he made to serve in Iraq ? time with his family, the comforts of home and the risk of losing his life. On June 28, the Supreme Court invalidated the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to lie about receiving the Medal of Honor and other military decorations. In its decision striking down the law, the court voted 6-3 in favor of Xavier Alvarez, a former local elected official in California who falsely said he was a decorated war veteran and had pleaded guilty to violating the law, according to Associated Press reports. Blake is one of many Auburn veterans who say they are shocked by the court?s ruling that people have the freedom of speech to say they have received military commendations that they haven?t. Some law professors say they agree with the court?s ruling because while misrepresenting one?s military accomplishments may be unsavory, it is protected under the first amendment and should not be punishable by the government. Blake, 38, of Auburn, said the decision reflects inconsistency in the government itself. ?These honors come from the executive branch of the government that would award a combat action ribbon and now you have the other branch, the judicial branch, saying ?we are not going to give too much credibility on that by upholding people?s right to lie with the honors you give,?? Blake said. ?I imagine there is going to be a big uproar.? During active duty for 11 years, Blake said he and other members of the military were disgusted by people who would lie about serving in the military or receiving honors. Jodi Lesniknowski, 77, and a post commander for the American Legion Post 84 of Auburn, said she believes the court?s decision was wrong. ?It?s an insult to people who have really served,? Lesniknowski said. ?I did 20 years. I spent a year in Vietnam. It was a 24/7, 365 days-a-year thing.? Janiece Cummins, 60, and first vice for the legion, said she is opposed to the ruling on principle. ?They are trying to get special treatment or an emotional advantage that they didn?t earn,? Cummins said. ?They aren?t the one in the military putting their lives on the line.? Aaron Caplan, associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, teaches courses in constitutional law. He said while the justice?s decision may not be popular with some, he agrees the Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional. ?People have freedom of speech and sometimes it means they will say things that the rest of us don?t like, but unless the speech causes some concrete harm, it?s not the government?s job to decide what things are true and what things are false,? Caplan said. The level of harm resulting from the speech would have to be similar to perjury or a death threat for the act to remain constitutional, he added. One constitutional way to counteract people lying about their military honors would be for the government to create a database of the awards it has given, Caplan suggested. The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it was working on creating such a database, according to the Associated Press. While details have not been made concrete, the intention is to have a digital version of records on a range of valor awards and medals going back as far in history as possible. ?In this situation it was unpleasant what these people do, but it?s not harmful to society in the same way that perjury is,? Caplan said. ?And if we believe in limited government, let?s not have the government get involved.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter@AJ_News. The Associated Press contributed to this article