Gary Stein

Marine Sgt. Gary Stein speaks with reporters in front of the federal court building Friday, April 13, 2012, in San Diego. U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff on Friday, April 13, 2012 denied a request to block discharge proceedings of Stein, who faces being kicked out of the military and loss of benefits for criticizing President Barack Obama on Facebook.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A sergeant will be discharged for criticizing President Barack Obama on Facebook in a case that called into question the Pentagon’s policies about social media and its limits on the speech of active duty military personnel, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.

Sgt. Gary Stein will get an other-than-honorable discharge and lose most of his benefits for violating the policies, the Corps said.

The San Diego-area Marine who has served nine years in the Corps said he was disappointed, and argued that he was exercising his constitutional rights to free speech.
“I love the Marine Corps, I love my job. I wish it wouldn’t have gone this way. I’m having a hard time seeing how 15 words on Facebook could have ruined my nine-year career,” he told The Associated Press.

Gary Kreep, an attorney for Stein, said he would pursue administrative appeals within the Marine Corps but anticipates the effort will fail. He said he planned to file an amended complaint in federal court.

“As long as he wants to pursue this, we will be supporting him,” said Kreep, who is executive director of the United States Justice Foundation, an advocacy group.
The Marines acted after saying Stein stated March 1 on a Facebook page used by Marine meteorologists, “Screw Obama and I will not follow all orders from him.” Stein later clarified, saying he would not follow unlawful orders.
Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, said Wednesday that evidence supported a recommendation to
discharge Stein.

Tom Umberg, a former Army colonel and military prosecutor, believes the decision to discharge Stein will have limited impact because the vast majority of Marines would never consider such postings.

“I think 99 percent of the soldiers and Marines currently on duty understand the duties of supporting the chain of command and understand their rights of free speech are limited,” he said. “To that 1 percent who don’t know their rights to free speech are limited once they take the oath, this is a loud and
clear message.”

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: Case explores military free speech
 

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A Marine facing dismissal from the military for his Facebook comments went as far as posting superimposed images of President Barack Obama’s face on a donkey, a prosecutor said Thursday.

 

Prosecutor Capt. John Torresala said the behavior by Marine Sgt. Gary Stein repeatedly violated Pentagon policy limiting the free speech rights of service members. Stein’s security clearance was taken away and he has no future in the Marine Corps because he can’t do his job without that clearance, Torresala said.

 

The government submitted screen grabs of Stein’s postings on one Facebook page he created called Armed Forces Tea Party, which the prosecutor said included the image of the “jackass,” and another page used by Marines such as Stein who work as military meteorologists.

 

Defense attorney Marine Capt. James Baehr said during the hearing that prosecutors were trying to dredge up any damaging information they could against Stein. “There is no basis in this case,” Baehr said. “Sgt. Stein has broken no law.”

 

Stein said his statement about Obama was part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan. In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if it involved detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights.

 

Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Free speech for military on trial after Marine lambastes Obama

SAN DIEGO — Marine Sgt. Gary Stein first started a Facebook page called Armed Forces Tea Party Patriots to encourage service members to exercise their free speech rights. Then he declared that he wouldn’t follow “unlawful” orders from the commander in chief, President Barack Obama.

The Marine Corps is determining if he violated the military’s rules prohibiting political statements by those in uniform and broke guidelines regarding social media. Stein said his views are constitutionally protected.

“I think that it’s been pretty well established for a long time that freedom of speech is one area in which people do surrender some of their basic rights in entering the armed forces,” said former Navy officer David Glazier. “Good order and discipline require the military maintain respect for the chain of command. That includes prohibiting speech critical of the senior officers in that chain of command — up to and including the commander in chief.”

According to Pentagon directives, military personnel in uniform can’t sponsor a political club; participate in any TV or radio program or group discussion that advocates for or against a political party, candidate or cause; or speak at any event promoting a political movement. Commissioned officers also may not use contemptuous words against senior officials.

Last week, Stein said his superiors told him he couldn’t use social media sites on government computers after he posted the message.

Stein said his statement was part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan. In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if those orders included detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights. Stein said he respects the office of the president, but he does not agree with Obama’s policies.

“Just because I’m a Marine doesn’t mean I don’t have free speech or can’t say my personal opinion about the president or other public official just like anybody else,” Stein said. “The Constitution trumps everything else.”

Stein said it’s positive when service members are well-versed on the Constitution and current events.

“When we know what we’re fighting for, we fight harder,” he said.

The Marine Corps said Stein is allowed to express his personal opinions, but not in his official capacity as a Marine. Spokesman Maj. Michael Armistead said the Corps is taking a closer look to ensure Stein has not crossed that line.

“At this time, he has not been asked to take down the statement on his page,” he said.

Marine Sgt. Jerret Wright, who liked Stein’s page, said Stein “probably skirted the line a little bit” with his latest message, but his boldness has been refreshing in a community that often feels silenced.

“People assume that we’re zombies with an on-and-off switch, and that we listen to orders and do nothing else,” Wright said.

Military observers point out that the Pentagon policy is necessary in preventing political and religious debates that could divide a unit and disrupt the strong working relationship that is needed to carry out missions, Glazier said.

“There are plenty of examples in the world of militaries heavily involved in influencing political events that have shown that is not conducive to civilian rule of law,” he said.

Printed on Thursday, March 8, 2012 as: Marine's Facebook page starts debate on military free speech