Court Rules Wearing Unearned Military Medals Is Free Speech

Wearing Unearned Military Medals
A Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. Photo by Fred Lambert/ UPI

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 12 (UPI) — A U.S. federal appeals court tossed out a conviction of a veteran who wore unearned military decorations, saying it was a form of free speech protected under the Constitution.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling on Monday in the case of United States of America v. Elven Joe Swisher.

in 2007, Swisher was convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act, a measure outlawing false claims of military accomplishments. The law was signed by former President George W. Bush in 2006, but the Supreme Court struck it down in 2012 as a violation of the First Amendment.

President Barack Obama signed a new measure in 2013 making it a crime to lie about military service for financial gain, but Congress later removed a provision making it illegal to wear unearned medals.

Swisher had reportedly testified in the 2005 trial of a man he said offered $10,000 to kill a judge presiding over a tax-evasion case. Swisher — who told the suspect he had killed several enemy troops in the Korean War — wore a Purple Heart medal while on the witness stand.

Court documents indicate Swisher enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on Aug. 4, 1954, a little over a year after the Korean War ended, and was given an honorable discharge in 1957. His discharge form, known as a DD-214, listed no medals.

In 2001, Swisher filed a disability claim for service-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he said was the result of his participation in a “secret combat mission in North Korea in August or September 1955.”

He said he was wounded in the operation and received a Purple Heart from an unnamed captain in a hospital, as well as a Silver Star and a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal with a bronze “V” for valor.

The Veterans Administration denied the claim but later reversed position in 2004 after Swisher provided an amended copy of his DD-214 that corroborated his account. The document was later found to be fraudulent.


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