One thing I saw on the first couple of pages here that really bothers me is those saying that this man’s behavior is protected under the first amendment and I’m not really sure how you can justify that in any meaningful way. As I understand, and I’m sure a constitutional scholar can correct me, the concept of freedom of speech has to actually has to have some message. A common example of speech that isn’t covered by the first amendment is yelling fire in a crowded theater.
As a more relevant example, there are laws against public nudity and no amount of saying you’re just expressing yourself means that it it’s constitutionally protected as free speech. However, as a case in point, I recall seeing a case on one of Penn & Teller’s BS episodes (I believe it was about Breast Obsession) where a woman was arrested and charged with indecent exposure for exposing her breasts as part of a protest against the laws prohibiting women from exposing their breasts. She ultimately challenged and won on first amendment rights. However, had a woman just exposed herself without it carrying some message (as it clearly did in her case), it’s not really free speech is it?
So, yes, I’m strongly in favor of the first amendment, but I also agree that, in order for it to be some form of speech it actually has to have some message associated with it. Thus, if this man’s actions should be protected, then I’m sure someone can articulate the message that he’s trying to get across by wearing that uniform. So I challenge those who think that it is constitutionally protected to say what exactly his message is.
That all said, that I believe it’s not protected doesn’t mean it necessarily should be illegal. However, I do believe there is an articulatable danger in allowing people to impersonate a military officer. No, I’m not concerned about national secrets or access to weapons or anything like that, but there IS a danger because that uniform intrinsically carries a certain amount of public trust (honor due to soldiers notwithstanding). This individual may not have been trying to be a spy or order around marines, but where should we draw the line? I’d be fine with drawing it at intent if it were possible to objectively determine it, but we’re not.
On the matter of the medals, also think that simply wearing medals isn’t necessarily covered as part of free speech. I do think that a man would be covered under free speech if he wore a Navy Cross his father won in WW2 on Veterans Day because there’s an obvious message of expressing pride in his father’s service to his country on a day when we nationally recognize the service of the military. I don’t think it’s covered in the case of this man because, again, what message is he trying to express? I also agree with the concept that it is, in a way, cheapening the value of the medal by wearing it while not having earned it. However, I don’t believe that there is any sort of intrinsic danger in representing oneself as having won the Navy Cross. So while I think that it isn’t protected under the first amendment and would argue that wearing that medal makes him a douchebag of the highest degree, making it illegal because it doesn’t make anyone safer. Besides, it really only comes into play on top of impersonating a marine, so then it’s like giving a guy being charged with wreckless driving and facing a $5000 fine a $25 ticket for not wearing his seatbelt.