No, this isn’t a post about Rush Limbaugh.
This is about the fine line between free speech and not-so-free speech. A Marine in San Diego is facing discharge for things he posted on a Facebook page he created (via USA Today):
The Marines on Wednesday told Sgt. Gary Stein — a Camp Pendleton Marine who started the Facebook page called Armed Forces Tea Party — that he is in violation of Pentagon policy barring troops from political activities.
Stein, a nine-year member of the Corps, said he started the page to encourage fellow servicemembers to exercise their free speech rights. He has also criticized U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for his comments on Syria.
The Marine Corps said in a statement that Stein’s commanding officer ordered a preliminary inquiry on March 8 after receiving allegations that Stein posted the political statements violating the Pentagon’s directives.
“After reviewing the findings of the preliminary inquiry, the commander decided to address the allegations through administrative action,” the Corps said.
“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?”
Stein said he planned to fight the charges. He had applied to extend his service, which was set to expire in a few months.
Stein said in addition to being discharged, he would have his rank reduced to lance corporal if he is proven to be in violation. He said he was removed from his job at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego on Wednesday and given a desk job with no access to computers.
This is where the nuance of free speech get tricky. At first glance, it looks like Stein was simply exercising his right to free speech by posting on Facebook. But as most who have served in the military will tell you, there is no such thing as “free speech” in the military. And in particular, you are not allowed to say derogatory things about the senior officers, nor even intimate that you would defy command. That includes saying you would not follow orders.
He had already been warned in 2010 about such activity.
According to Pentagon directives, 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. Commissioned officers also may not use contemptuous words against senior officials, including the defense secretary or the president.
Stein was first cautioned by his superiors at Camp Pendleton in 2010, after he launched his Facebook page and criticized Obama’s health care overhaul. Stein volunteered to take down the page while he reviewed the rules at the request of his superiors.
He said he determined he was not in violation and relaunched the page. Last week, he said his superiors told him he could not use social media sites on government computers after he posted the message stating he would not follow the president’s unlawful orders.
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.
So, he himself determined he was not in violation. Probably not the right person to make that judgment.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Most employers have some type of clause that states that you can be terminated for any action that is found to reflect badly on the employer. Pretty common stuff. Stein’s employer is the USMC. And their code of conduct is more strict than most civilian employers. They rely on order to be able to do their job. And they take it pretty seriously. Having a recruiter post publicly that he would countermand orders from the Commander-In-Chief – particularly in the context of a political debate in a public forum – reflects badly on the Corps. And to start a group called the “Armed Forces Tea Party” is in direct violation of the regulations he says he complied with. So is calling the President an enemy of the state.
I’m all for free speech. But as I’ve noted before, there is a consequence for that free speech. Free speech is the right to say what you feel. It does not, however, mean you are free from repercussions of that speech. You CAN yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. You will, however, be responsible for the result of that action. In this case Stein, as an active duty member of the Corps, and a recruiter for that branch to boot, has violated their regulations. He can say what he wants. He will feel the repercussions of those statements and the choice to ignore the rules.