Seal Not Found in Moats: Minister Admits Lying About Military Service

I have previously written about my concerns over the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act — concerns that led to the act later being struck down. This week, we have another faux warrior. After the killing of Bin Laden, the Patriot-News interviewed a minister, Rev. Jim Moats of Newville, Pa., who spoke at length about his service in Vietnam as a Navy Seal.

Rev. Jim Moats of Newville leads the Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville.

Moats spoke passionately about his time as a Seal and how he left to pursue his religious calling. He explained that “I had almost no discipline. I was as wild as they came. That was my nemesis,” Moats said. “They weren’t looking for a guy who brags to everyone he is a SEAL. They wanted somebody who was ready but had an inner confidence and didn’t have a braggadocio attitude.” He described how after a fight in a bar, he decided to answer the call of the faithful. He even had a plaque in his office celebrating his service in the Seals.

One expert said that his story appeared to be lifted from Steven Seagal’s movie “Under Siege” while other parts seemed lifted from “GI Jane.” I can handle false claims of military valor. However, I cannot countenance lifting material from two of the worst movies of all time.

Now, he has fessed up and said that he made up the whole thing: “I never was in a class, I never served as an actual SEAL. It was my dream. … I don’t even know if I would have met the qualifications. I never knew what the qualifications were.” He never even served in Vietnam itself. The closest he got was a trip to the Mediterranean Sea aboard the USS Independence.

He told his congregation that he had “gotten caught up in moments and been untruthful,” but did not want to dwell on it.

Because he wore a Seal Trident on at least one occasion, some could claim he fell into the Stolen Valor Act, but it would be a weak claim and the statute is presumptively unconstitutional.

I am quoted in the article and I have requested a correction of one statement. The reporter stated “Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, said the majority of people who lie about military ranks and honors do it for the money.” I did not say that. To the contrary, most people who lie about military honors do so for the simple purpose of enhancing their status. It is the stereotypical pick-up line scene. What I told the newspaper is that the vast majority of people prosecuted lie for personal gain. They are cases of criminal fraud and are prosecuted as such. This is why the Stolen Valor Act is not only unconstitutional but unneeded.

Here is Moats’ bio from the church website:

After attending Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina he held pastorates in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. He has been a church planter and traveled in evangelism for several years. He has also served on several mission boards and has traveled to many foreign countries preaching the Gospel. Pastor Moats has been married for over 35 years to his “high school sweetheart.” He and Sue have 3 children. He has taught on the family for many years and has conducted an extensive marriage and family counseling ministry for many years. He unashamedly preaches an “old fashioned message for a “new fashioned” people

The Moats case shows how public disclosure of such lies are often sufficient punishment. Ironically, Moats wanted to enjoy an enhanced status (in addition to be a minister) but is now a social pariah.

Source: Penn Live

Jonathan Turley

10 thoughts on “Seal Not Found in Moats: Minister Admits Lying About Military Service”

  1. The truth has certainly set this man free of his congregation and his career. Now he gets to find out just how forgiving and compassionate his christian community really is; I doubt he will survive the shock.

  2. Am I the only one who, on seeing the title, thought this man’s infraction was keeping an unlicensed pinniped in a water feature?

  3. What I find most disturbing about this story is not that it is yet another example of “stolen valor,” but that we have developed such a strong commitment to war as our primary tool of foreign policy that militarism and the values associated with militarism have become the prime focus of societal adulation.

  4. Hey, whatever works to keep that collection basket full. Religion is a business and since there is a “sucker born everyday,” there is plenty of unlimited, fertile ground for a silver-tongued devil to make a buck.

  5. “After attending Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina”

    Well . . . there’s your problem right there. He’s well schooled in making things up to suit his ends whether the facts support him or not. That’s just the Bob Jones tradition!

  6. Prof.
    You had me all the way until you mentioned that this minister trained at Bob Jones University! I agree that the statute is unconstitutional, but the congregation should kick this guy down the street!

  7. “Under Siege” is actually the best movie Seagall ever made, mostly because of Tommy Lee Jones’s performance and the great catchphrase, “This is not the work of a cook!”

    From the article:

    “After attending Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina he held pastorates in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. He has been a church planter and traveled in evangelism for several years. He has also served on several mission boards and has traveled to many foreign countries preaching the Gospel.”

    Or so he says.

  8. I was in…yes…that was it…it was service related….That I am certain…

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