Is lying about being a decorated combat vet particularly heinous? Or is 2005's Stolen Valor Act, which made it a misdemeanor offense to make false claims about receiving service medals and awards, unconstitutional because it violates the wannabe warrior's First Amendment rights?
Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will charge onto that battlefield.
And it's a crowded one, because history is littered with people who've lied about their military records. In Denver last month, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision of a federal district court judge to dismiss the charges against Rick Glen Strandlof, aka Rick Duncan, who'd claimed to be a decorated combat veteran wounded in Iraq and founded a Colorado Springs veterans' group, sharing his stories at fundraisers in the area.
The Supreme Court will consider the case of Xavier Alvarez, a member of a California water district board who lied at a public hearing about being a Marine and receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez was one of the first charged under the Stolen Valor Act; his conviction was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "If false factual statements are unprotected, then the government can prosecute not only the man who tells tall tales of winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, but also the JDater who falsely claims he's Jewish or the dentist who assures you it won't hurt a bit," said Judge Alex Kozinski.
At least Strandlof never claimed to be a dentist. He dropped the Rick Duncan act after the military exposed him as a fake in 2009. But a year later, he was back in the lying game, claiming to be Rick Gold, an attorney with the firm of Patton Boggs, and quickly worked himself into a group of young Jewish professionals -- and from there to a role as co-founder of the Denver Flash Mob. Click to read fellow Flash Mob founder Eric Rosenberg's account of his experience with Strandlof.
More recently, Strandlof has been hanging out with Occupy Denver. Here's the blog he wrote the day after the 10th Circuit Court decision:
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Yesterday something happened.
While it was not what I had wanted to happen, I was moderately ok with what did happen.
In the past, my first reaction would have been to attempt to exert some sort of ham handed control over these events, circumstances, trends and the people ancillary to them.
How did that work out?
People ended up hating me.
Courts locked me up.
Not one person involved came out better for the situation.
One of the things that I am learning since coming into the rooms of AA is that I don't have any control over people, places, and things and when I think I do, the results are only negative.
Yesterday marked the first time on my journey into sobriety that I didn't engage in the aforementioned behavior which for me, was revolutionary.
For a single moment I stopped and did nothing.
For a single moment I was just there with my circumstances.
For a single moment I just existed with all of it.
What I did was acknowledge it for what it was - a court ruling. Then I finished my coffee and made a few phone calls to people who I thought should know. They summation of those conversations went something like "Well that sucks. I hope you are OK and we are here for you."
This is a single court ruling in one of many misdemeanor cases in the unfortunate history of a single human, one of billions that currently suck oxygen on a tiny blue planet orbiting a small yellow star in the backwaters of a typical galaxy in the expanse of one of an infinite number of realities that exist in the mind of G-d.
I am nothing special.
There will be those who claim that I am a terrible human being and should have all manner of terrible thing done to me as a result.
They are probably correct.
They are free to voice their threats and opinions and thoughts and views.
In that same freedom, I am able to acknowledge those things for what they are: ones and zeroes stored on computers.
They are nothing more.
It only has power over me if I let it.
In the words of our Serenity Prayer: "May G-d grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
Truly the only thing I have the power to change is myself.
G-d, please give me the courage to do so.
Be well, do good work and keep in touch.
Read the 10th Circuit Court decision in Strandlof's case here.
Want to see the resurrected Denver Flash Mob -- without Rick Strandlof -- in action? Check out our Party Rock Anthem flash mob slide show.