For Immediate Release:
John Ensslin, SPJ President, 973-513-5632,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has signed on to an amicus brief by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press defending First Amendment rights in a case challenging the Stolen Valor Act.
Enacted in 2005, the Stolen Valor Act criminalizes lying about receiving a military decoration or honor. Violators face fines and up to one year in prison.
At issue is the criminal conviction of Xavier Alvarez, an elected member of the Three Valleys Water District in California. At a meeting with another water management agency, he introduced himself as a former Marine who had been wounded in battle and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Each of these claims was false, and Alvarez was charged with two counts of violating the act.
Alvarez is the first individual to challenge the Stolen Valor Act as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. While SPJ does not support Alvarez’s actions or false statements, the act’s restriction of speech is in clear violation of the First Amendment. Both history and legal precedent have shown that giving government authority to arbitrate truth and criminalize falsity hinders free speech, and can lead to suppression of not only demonstrable untruths but also political and artistic speech.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals previously upheld Alvarez’s challenge, and the case is now on appeal to the Supreme Court.
“The framers of the Constitution and justices of the Supreme Court have consistently emphasized that the right to free speech must be protected even when some will use that right to make unsavory or offensive statements,” SPJ President John Ensslin said. “It is every person’s responsibility to defend others’ rights to speak freely, just as we expect them to protect our own rights.”
As a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases. Most recently, SPJ joined an amicus brief supporting the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.