BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A federal court says the protection of freedom of speech extends even to liars. The Ninth United States Circuit of Appeals ruled the Stolen Valor Act as unconstitutional after hearing the case of a California man. That's the federal law that makes it a crime to lie about having received military medals.
Two retired Air Force colonels here in South Mississippi say that kind of lie is a slap in the face to honorable servicemen and women.
Retired colonels Dick Wilson and Harry Nixon say restoring Biloxi's war time monuments is a great tribute to the servicemen they represent.
"I think it's awesome," said Col. Nixon. "When you look around and you see what they've accomplished here. It can't help but make you proud."
As the two Vietnam veterans proudly read the names on the Purple Heart Memorial, they expressed concern about a growing trend of people lying about having military honors.
"Even way back in Desert Storm it started where guys were saying 'I've got a purple heart.' They wanted VA benefits and things," Col. Wilson said. "Some of them weren't even in the service. It's kind of pitiful for the guys that really, really deserved them and were rewarded."
Nixon and Wilson say liars degrade the value of the medals and should be punished in a court of law.
"Sometimes the penalty is worse than the crime," said Col. Wilson. "To say 'Okay, he gets 90 days of community work and a fine.' That's pretty significant plus the embarrassment that he receives with his peers and his family."
Col. Nixon said as the father of a Purple Heart Recipient, he finds the appellate court ruling very disturbing.
"I noticed it was on the far side of the United States and having very liberal opinions is not very unusual to that part of the country," said Col. Nixon. "I would say that hopefully up the line that ruling will be overturned because once again, to make claims that are true degrades the award that the people that truly earned it."
Dozens of people have been arrested under the Stolen Valor Act nationwide. Many of the cases involved people who lied but did not profit from their claims. Most of the imposters were ordered to perform community service.
The court ruling was two to one. The dissenting justice said the majority did not follow clear Supreme Court precedent that false statements are not entitled to First Amendment protection.
Officials in the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles says they are considering whether to appeal Tuesday's decision.