FREEDOM OF SPEECH?—MAYBE NOT

Sgt. Gary Stein, the U.S. Marine who openly criticized President Obama on his Facebook page, has been discharged from the Marines for violating its policies on political activities.

The complete set of regulations that describe what political activities are permitted and which are forbidden can be found here.

http://www.dod.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/ethics_regulation/1344-10.html

I would summarize these rules this way.

There are political activities in which troops may participate, so long as they are not in uniform or give the impression they are acting in an official capacity. There are some partisan political activities which are prohibited, in uniform or not.

Here is the offending passage from Facebook:

On March 1, Stein wrote on a closed forum for active-duty meteorologists and oceanographers that he would say “Screw Obama” and not follow all orders from him, according to Courthouse News.


“Obama is the economic enemy,” he wrote in the post. “He is the religious enemy … He is the ‘fundamentally change’ America enemy … He IS the Domestic Enemy.”

http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/25/11396769-marine-who-criticized-obama-on-facebook-i-wish-i-could-take-it-back?lite

My personal view of the First Amendment that protects freedom of speech is much stricter than what is in practice in this country I basically believe anything goes. Any exceptions to that must be drawn narrowly.

Now I think Sgt. Stein was an idiot for how he portrayed the President. He joins a long line of Americans who have expressed their displeasure with him in the most vituperative terms possible. Yet, if he were not in a special position as a member of the military, I would have no objection to his words other that that I find them inappropriate and inaccurate.

That said, Sgt. Stein is a member of the military and President Obama is his Commander in Chief. As part of military discipline Stein must not openly question his superiors, whether they wear generals’ stars or work in the Oval Office.

Military law addresses this relationship between members of the forces and the President in many different ways. In the heat of battle failure to adhere to these rules could result in death. Though that threat may not be present at other times, the strict discipline taught must be practiced in all facets of military life so that it is instilled and second nature if in battle.

So punishment under military law of Sgt. Stein is not unwarranted.

I suspect, however, that though Stein dwells rather low on the military totem pole, since there have been incidents of general officers being caught openly questioning the President without the vituperation, merely policy disagreements as it were, the harshness of Stein’s words mitigated against him escaping any penalty.

I also supect that internal politics in the Marines were at play, as they all in nearly all work situations, military and civilian.

Sgt. Stein’s sentence could have been more severe. Immediate discharge from the Marines might be overreach as his contract was due to expire in a few months. He could have been permitted to serve it out with an appropriate reprimand issued.

Discharge from the service under these circumstances will result in the loss of many veterans’ benefits to which Sgt Stein would otherwise have been entitled. His ugly words were not widely disseminated even within the military, nor were they published for civilian consumption. Of  course unlike “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” what happens in Facebook too often does not stay in Facebook and people for whom that information was never intended are able to readily partake of it.

Sgt. Stein has apologized for what he wrote. If he no longer believes what he wrote fine. If he still clings to those words and his apology was insincere, he will soon be free to iterate his expression of them in many different forums with no consequences from the government, civilian or military.

I personally would tell him that, while he is free to disagree with or heavily criticize the President, the words he chose to do so serve no constructive purpose.

Many people back in civilian life will welcome him as a compatriot for his views and even deem him a hero or believe he is a victim

He is neither. He is an American citizen who, as a civilian, will now have the right of freedom of speech without the limitations of the military.

I trust and expect him to exercise it well.

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Comments

  • little_minx  On April 26, 2012 at 1:25 AM

    Stein posted, inter alia: “…and not follow all orders from him” and “Obama is the [four kinds of] enemy”?

    As you observe: “Sgt. Stein is a member of the military and President Obama is his Commander in Chief. As part of military discipline Stein must not openly question his superiors, whether they wear generals’ stars or work in the Oval Office.” Legally, does it matter how many or few people read Stein’s relevant posts, as long as at least one person did? Also, don’t members of civilian law enforcement agencies (police, sheriffs, highway patrol, etc.) also have to hew to a narrower freedom-of-speech standard than we in the unwashed public do, also in the interests of maintaining discipline, since they’re quasi-military in hierarchy?

    Oh well, Cpl. Stein can always go lick his wounds with goalie Tim Thomas — who crassly refused to attend a Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup team celebration at the White House, on invitation from President Obama, on grounds he disagreed with Obama’s policies — now that Boston’s been eliminated from the 2012 first round (tee-hee!).

    • umoc193  On April 26, 2012 at 2:49 AM

      The irony is that an awful lot of folks who admire him, even if they recognize and accept the distinctive military context of his actions, are probably NRA members who think there should be NO exceptions to the 2nd Amendment. Why that one should stand alone in that respect is beyond me.

      • little_minx  On April 26, 2012 at 10:54 AM

        Kind of like ultra-conservative Reg-ulators Mugsy and Rocky, who slammed “cafeteria Catholics” for following their conscience WRT sexual issues (including overpopulation) rather than slavishly obeying their church hierarchy (ostensibly celibate old men who supposedly have no experience of sex) — while conveniently rejecting their church’s teaching re social justice and ameliorating poverty — and failing to see the hypocrisy of their inconsistency.

  • little_minx  On April 27, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    Did you see Tony Norman’s excellent column on this today?

    “Marine carrying contempt earns it himself”:
    http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/tony-norman/marine-carrying-contempt-earns-it-himself-633328

    Pivotal line: “Mr. Stein and the ACLU decided to go up against a rule that has limited the free speech of people in the military since the Civil War. Though I’m with the ACLU 99 percent of the time, I’m glad they didn’t prevail at Mr. Stein’s hearing this time.”

    • umoc193  On April 27, 2012 at 3:44 PM

      I read Tony early this morning. I think he has a little more contempt for Stein than I do. On the other hand I applaud the ACLU’s involvement. Though I see the reason for the rule, and grudgingly accept this narrow exception to the First Amendment, I also see no problem with a legal challenge to it, successful or not.

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