When the Founding Fathers conceived the First Amendment, was their intention really to shelter the lies of those who misrepresented their military service? What about burning the flag in protest? Or picketing military funerals and condemning the honored dead to eternal damnation for defending a country that coddles gays?
Probably not⎯at least, not specifically. But they also knew that for healthy discourse⎯the kind essential to the safe steering the ship of state⎯to flourish, all the odious by-products also had to be allowed on board. If you start drawing a line, the line-drawing can quickly become arbitrary and self-serving.
The argument in favor of making “stolen valor” speech illegal is that charlatans who brag about bogus military heroism are doing such harm to those who won their medals legitimately that it actually damages the republic. What is the distinction between that and a politician running for president who makes cynical promises he doesn’t intend to keep, or who slanders his opponent in order to gain an advantage? Which, in the end, is more of a threat to the country?
If decorated vets could get past their hurt and anger (and I’m not arguing that those feelings aren’t legitimate), they might see that what they heroically risked their lives for was not a qualified, limited version of the Bill of Rights, but the whole gorgeously sloppy, unvarnished body of principles that welcomes good as well as ill⎯as long as it’s expressed freely.
My guess is that the issue is being whipped up because it plays well with the home folks during an election year. That, too, is an exercise of free speech, and ought to be protected.