High court torn over law banning lie about medals

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court appears to be sharply divided over a law that makes it a crime to lie about having been awarded top military honors.

The justices engaged in spirited debate Wednesday over the constitutionality of a 2006 law aimed at curbing false claims about military exploits.

Some justices said they worried that upholding the Stolen Valor Act could lead to laws that might make it illegal to lie about an extramarital affair or a college degree.

But others indicated that the law is narrowly drawn to try to prevent people from demeaning the system of military honors that was established by Gen. George Washington in 1782.

On Wednesday's "CBS This Morning," correspondent Chip Reid reported on the case of Xavier Alvarez, who told an audience in 2007 that he received the Medal of Honor, which was false. He was charged and convicted under the Stolen Valor Act, which makes lying about military honors an offense. Alvarez appealed to the high court, saying that the law infringes on his right to free speech.

Should lying about military medals be a crime?

Law professor Jonathan Turley of Georgetown University concurred. "People have to feel they can speak without being criminally punished ... We don't need to start to criminalize all things that the government declares to be lies."

However, retired Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam, told "CBS This Morning" that it is ethically wrong to lie about receiving that distinguished military recognition. He also said that people should be penalized for doing such things regarding military honors.

"He is diminishing the honor of the people who want it, who deserve it -- people who deserve it the most," said Thorsness.

As for the implications if the Stolen Valor Act is struck down by the justices, Reid reported that Congress is working on alternate legislation to make it a crime to lie about a military award for profit.