Marine discharged over comments about Obama

Our fundamental freedoms in our great nation are laid out in the U.S. Constitution, among the most cherished are the Bill of Rights.  What is so important about the Bill of Rights is the protection it grants from government imposition.  Among the freedoms I believe most people take for granted is the freedom of speech — the ability to speak out against the government and elected officials.

One U.S. Marine is being dishonorably discharged for his comments directed toward President Obama via social media and has sparked a debate as to which protections U.S. military personnel enjoy under the Constitution while serving.

(The Hill) — A review board on Thursday recommended that Marine Sgt. Gary Stein be discharged for comments on his “Armed Forces Tea Party” site, where he called Obama “the domestic enemy,” superimposed his face on a “Jackass” movie poster and said he would not follow some orders from Obama.

Service members are banned from engaging in political speech or activities while representing the military.

Stein and his lawyers argue he was acting as a private citizen when posting on the Facebook page, and say the Marine Corps are violating his First Amendment rights by prosecuting him for his comments.

The web is replete with conservative bloggers arguing for Marine Sgt. Stein to be protected under the same Constitution for which he is risking his life to defend.  I wish I could be arguing right along side with them, I really do.  In fact I too believe the President has continually made America weaker — militarily and diplomatically — to the point where nations like Iran and North Korea feel they can build their nuclear weapons programs and threaten other nations (such as Israel) in the face of our requests otherwise.

But military personnel sowing disunity by criticizing the President and his policies can only serve to weaken us further.  I think the men and women should have a tighter leash when it comes to issues of speech.  They need to be trusted to obey (lawful orders) without fear of hesitation.  When they are free to speak out against and criticize their higher-ups and Commander-in-Chief, they undermine that confidence.

I have to admit, my biggest regret in my life was not joining the military.  I hold military personnel in a degree of reverence above others for their bravery.  Knowing what they are walking into voluntarily for me, you and the rest of the free world.  Many people don’t like the idea that the United States plays the role of the world’s police force, but in reality without the U.S. the world would be a much more dangerous place.  I hate to have to agree with the decision to relieve Marine Sgt. Stein of his duties, but I must insist that the military fall in behind the President and protect our strength in unity, even if it means biting your tongue.

Comments

  1. I think the punishment does not fit the crime. An Article 15 or Court Martial for reduction in rank, or some other disciplinary action would be more appropriate. This action is like execution for speeding.

    • Admittedly I am not fimiliar with protocol on things like this. I assumed this would be normal, i.e. speaking out publicly online like that. I would think what you suggest would be speaking out on base or in front of higher ranking officers. But again, I dont know. I do think punishment is warranted for things like this as much as I’d live for POTUS to hear honest feedback from his troops.

      • Oh, he should definitely be punished, but I have seen much worse offenses with nothing more than a reduction in rank. This is overkill to make a point with the Obama administration.

        • Glenn

          What could you have seen in your time in service (or maybe you mean more recently) that compares with posting this on social media sites which reach potentially millions of people?

          I’m not doubting or arguing, just curious.

          • Well, this was still a personal comment, like writing friends and family. I have seen direct violations of orders, AWOL for extended periods, direct insubordination, etc – all of which I consider much more serious than some guy commenting on FB.

            • i’ll have to take your word for it on how serious the military takes incidents like this, i never served. hopefully, this isnt political, but it may very well be if you say this is extreme.

  2. TerranceH says:

    I’m sure there were military men and women that spoke out against President Bush when he was in office. Were they also reprimanded? And if so, this severely?

  3. Marshall Art says:

    I think the deal here is whether or not his social site was a soldier speaking or a soldier speaking as a civilian. That is, if his site was based on him being in the military, then he is representing the military and thus needs to curb his emotions and opinions to remain in line with military protocols regarding conduct. If there was no connection between his personal self and his military self, then there could be no negative reflection on the military against which the rules were invented to defend. The punishment does seem harsh, but if it was known there is little excuse. But it seems to me that he is ridiculing a commanding officer by mocking Obama, and that surely can’t go down easily in the military.

    And John, I share your regret about not having served.

  4. Overall, John, I agree with you. As a member of the military, it is important that our leaders have confidence their lawful orders will be carried out and that there will not be insubordination in the ranks.

    I am currently a JAG with the Air Force. (That is why I don’t use my real name. I want to be extra careful that my words cannot be attributed to the Air Force, and thus get me in trouble.) But, John, you are wrong about him being dishonorably discharged. He went to a discharge board, not a court-martial. Only in a court-martial can someone be punished with a dishonorable discharge. He is being administratively discharged. He is NOT being prosecuted.

    The board recommended discharge and characterized his discharge as Under Other Than Honorable conditions. A discharge board is like an employment hearing. It is not a criminal proceeding. He was “fired” from the Marines and his service was characterized with a UOTHC. Granted, that is the worst characterization one can get at a discharge board. (I would have given him an Under Honorable Conditions, which is a “General” discharge, not a UOTHC.) He will still lose most benefits, but his discharge isn’t “dishonorable.”

    And the “Hill” article is wrong, military members are not prohibited from making political speeches while a member of the military. We are on duty 24/7, but we still have the right to advocate politics publicly. We just can’t do it in uniform on duty time. There are other guidelines that I won’t bore you with. But this Marine didn’t just say “Vote for the other guy.” He said things about Obama that weren’t political speech. “Obama is a jackass.” “I won’t obey any orders given to me by him.” His “Armed Forces Tea Party” implies a connection between the Department of Defense and his political activities and opinions. If he were an officer, he could have been prosecuted under Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for making disparaging remarks about the president.

    (A reserve soldier got in hot water for speaking at a Ron Paul rally in his uniform- Hatch Act violation. Why Ron Paul would let him do that while in uniform was really stupid.)

    We take an oath to support and defend the Constitution from eneimes foreign and domestic. But who gets to decide who a domestic enemy is? And what if it is the Commander-in-Chief? My preference is the deposing of a domestic enemy president needs to come at the hands of a the political sphere and not from a military coup.

    Anyway, the law sees this discharge board not as punishment, but as an employment decision. An Article 15 (Non-judicial punishment- where his commander is essentially both judge and jury) and a court-martial (a federal court), are both punitive in nature and can take away his liberty. A discharge board simply said he needs to find other employment.

  5. DogTags,
    Thanks for that excellent explanation as to what actually happened. Makes a lot more sense, although I still think it was excessive.

  6. Hi John. I can’t add much to Dogtag’s comment. He would be in a better position to know, wouldn’t he? FYI: I’m back and blogging again.

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