It is not often that I agree with the American Civil Liberties Union, but when it comes to the First Amendment the ACLU and I almost always see eye to eye.
For the uninitiated among us here is what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
So when I read in my local newspaper (yes they still do exist, thank God) about a Temecula, California Marine who is facing discharge for an anti-Obama Facebook page he created titled “Armed Forces Tea Party,” it caught my attention.
On that page he published a picture showing President Obama’s head superimposed on a jackass. He also offered “Nobama” bumper stickers online.
To its credit the ACLU jumped into the fray and is supporting the U. S. Marine–a 26-year-old sergeant by the name of Gary Stein.
|U.S. Marine Sgt. Gary Stein|
The U.S. Marine Corps says Sgt. Stein repeatedly disregarded warnings that his anti-Obama postings violated Pentagon rules involving the military. In quick order the Marine Corps took away Sgt. Stein’s security clearance, removed him from his job at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego and assigned him to a desk job with no access to computers. Then it began proceedings to discharge him.
After a 14-hour hearing, an Administrative Separation Board at Camp Pendleton voted 3-0 this week that Stein should be dismissed with an “other-than-honorable discharge.”
More specifically, Pentagon directives say military personnel in uniform cannot 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.
So let me get this straight. Sgt. Stein can join the Marines and essentially forfeit his freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution while actually fighting for those freedoms? He can join the military and possibly give his life should he be sent into harm’s way, but he cannot criticize the president?
“I’m completely shocked that this is happening,” Stein said. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve only stated what our oath states that I will defend the constitution and that I will not follow unlawful orders. If that’s a crime, what is America coming to?”
On his Facebook page Stein wrote: “As an active-duty Marine, I say screw Obama.” He also called Obama a “coward” and a “financial and religious enemy”.
Capt. Nicholas Grey, representing Stein, told the board that dismissing Stein would be vindictive and overly harsh for an offense “where there’s no blood, no financial loss, just words. Think about how dangerous this could be if the U.S. government can prosecute you for something you say on your private Facebook page. How can we expect Marines to participate in citizenship if they cannot join political discussions?”
The final decision about whether Stein will be dismissed with an “other-than-honorable discharge,” rests with the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. That kind of discharge would make Stein, 26, who served for nine years, ineligible for veterans benefits.
As the ACLU says: “It is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something many people find at least reasonable. But the defense of freedom of speech is most critical when the message is one most people find repulsive. That was true when the Nazis marched in Skokie. It remains true today.”
President Obama, who prides himself on being a Constitutional scholar and lawyer, should himself step up in support of Sgt. Stein. But he won’t. That would be too much to ask of an administration that is more intent on curtailing our liberties than supporting and protecting them.
George Washington, our original President, had it right when he said: “If freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
We can only hope that America’s alarming procession to the slaughter house will come to an end in November 2012.