I had just finished writing this article when Dick Johnson's piece on the same topic arrived in my inbox. I decided to leave this in, as I'm not sure what the current legal status is, and like Dick I could not find much online about the topic.
This week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act concerning military medals. All of the news stories I saw about the decision discussed the legality of lying about having been awarded the medal. While reprehensible, this was deemed free speech. But what about the provisions of the law which made illegal the buying and selling of medals such as the Medal of Honor?
Could any of our readers set us straight on what this decision means for numismatics? Can medal collectors now legally acquire these medals for their collections in the United States? The only reference I could find was the following Wikipedia entry, and it indicates that the criminal penalties for such sales have NOT been lifted, meaning that trading in the medals is still illegal.
In 2006, Congress enacted the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. (Section 1 of the Act provided that the law could be cited as the "Stolen Valor Act of 2005," but the bill received final passage and was signed into law in 2006.) The law amended 18 U.S.C. § 704 to make it a federal criminal offense for a person to deliberately state falsely that he or she had been awarded a military decoration, service medal, or badge. The law also permitted an enhanced penalty for someone who falsely claimed to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
On June 28, 2012, in the case of United States v. Alvarez, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005's criminalization of the making of false claims of having been awarded a military medal, decoration, or badge was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. The case involved an elected official in California, Xavier Alvarez, who had falsely stated at a public meeting that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor, even though he had never served in any branch of the armed forces.
The Supreme Court's decision did not specifically address the constitutionality of the older portion of the statute which prohibits the unauthorized wearing, manufacturing, or sale of military medals or decorations. Under the law, the unauthorized wearing, manufacturing, or sale of the Medal of Honor is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.
To read the complete article, see:
Medal of Honor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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