With Stolen Valor Act facing court tests, locals weigh in on whether those who lie about receiving medals should be punished

Most people in the Chattahoochee Valley believe it’s a disgrace for someone to lie about being a war hero, but most question whether someone should be put behind bars for it.

That question is currently being fought in the courts.

The Stolen Valor Act is a federal law that makes it illegal to lie about being a war hero. It carries a punishment of up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have won a military medal.

The U.S. Justice Department is fighting to keep the law, passed by Congress in 2006, but a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and a federal district court in Denver have both ruled the law is unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds, saying the act infringes on freedom of speech. It’s a issue that could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It should definitely be a crime,” said Army Sgt. Aaron Marrero. The Fort Benning soldier, who served eight years as a Marine, returned from Iraq in August.

“A lot of men and women have put their life on the line and it irritates me, hurts me, when someone claims to have earned something they didn’t. There should be some kind of punishment. I don’t know if it should be jail.”

1st Lt. Carl Weimer recently got his combat patch, and he’s proud of it. He came back from Iraq after being injured.

“I think it’s inappropriate to lie about something like that. I believe it should remain a law because that would be a deterrent for people to do this. Someone who lies about something like winning a medal shows great disrespect for this country’s military.”

Weimer is for some kind of punishment, but a year in jail? “I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said.

Kaye Payne lives in Florence, Ala. On Monday, she was in Columbus visiting one of her sons, a Fort Benning soldier. Her other son is a soldier stationed in Germany.

“I think there should be punishment for lying about winning a medal,” she said. “People use those lies to get honors, political office, jobs and whatever else that they don’t deserve. I’m not sure what the punishment should be but you should have it.”

Michelle Young, the mother of two young children, is a dietary aide at a Columbus nursing home. “It’s bad to tell a lie and a lot of people do it,” she said, “but you shouldn’t start putting them in jail for it.”

She said she believed the law violates a person’s freedom of speech.

Andre McMillan works at the IMAX theatre at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus. He said he is surrounded at work by real heroes. While it is certainly wrong to lie about winning medals, he said, the person should not face imprisonment.

“Lots of people lie about stuff,” he said. “Jail is for real criminals.”