Marine Sgt. Gary Stein is facing a possible “other-than-honorable” discharge for exercising his right to free speech.
Stein’s constitutional freedoms are being questioned because of comments he posted to his personal Facebook page that criticized President Obama, and for his operation of the 29,000-member Armed Forces Tea Party page. A Marine administrative review advised Stein be relieved of his duties as a result of his statements, a decision that will be made by his commanding officer.
According to his critics, the grounds on which Stein should be fired come from a Defense Department directive that punishes soldiers who “allow or cause to be published partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.”
As Stein’s legal counsel has noted, this statute is over-broad, and takes vagueness to the brink of constitutionality.
If the military were to discharge every soldier who “cause[d] to be published partisan political articles,” it may as well shelve its fatigues right now – every article or column ever written about the military, from either end of the political spectrum, was directly or indirectly caused by an American soldier. Even the most ungenerous reading of Stein’s actions crawl the edge of this stipulation.
Stein explicitly stated that the views expressed were his own. He was not directly soliciting goals for President Obama’s opponents, only criticizing the candidate’s policy.
Finally, Facebook is not a publication, lacking as it is in editorial discretion, among other considerations that make up a proper publication.
Though in a fevered debate, Stein stated he would hesitate to follow unlawful orders given by President Obama, he has not actually failed to follow orders. If he has, consider him for discharge on those grounds – not for exercising his first amendment rights.
Regardless of whether Stein did indeed violate this rule, this directive and the assumptions that inform it are contrary to the very liberties the military claims to protect.
The military should not expect of its soldiers complete and unthinking agreement.
Civilians and soldiers alike pledge allegiance to the American flag, not mindless obedience.
If Stein is indeed discharged for agreeing with the policy of his superiors, the state of American political affairs is such that disparate voices must be silenced in order to maintain the semblance of solidarity.
Disagreement does not equal disloyalty. A united front that compromises the opinions of those who comprise it is a tenuous one indeed, and one in direct contrast to the liberty to disagree guaranteed by the Constitution.
The existence of the military and the $1.5 trillion dollars it will cost American taxpayers in 2012 is justified by the idea that its soldiers defend that document.
Participating in that cause shouldn’t mean sacrificing the freedoms guaranteed by it.
Powered by Facebook Comments