Sergeant Gary Stein is facing dismissal from the Marines after creating a Facebook page called Armed Forces Tea Party – and posting publically that he refuses to follow “unlawful orders” from President Obama. He insists that he has a right to express his personal opinions and will appeal the decision. And he does have some support from those who believe his freedom of speech is being suppressed.
Whether one finds his comments distasteful or courageous, this isn’t a clear-cut case of free speech. Pentagon policies bar members of the military from publicly engaging in political activities, including criticizing the president – a policy that’s been in place since the Civil War. The rules, laid out by the Huffington Post, are fairly clear:
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.
While it may seem unfair to bar soldiers from political activity, there are some good reasons for the rule. One of the main concerns in the Stein case is that Marine Corps’ concern than his Facebook site could be construed as expressing official opinions on behalf of the organization.
There’s also the matter of the Oath of Enlistment, in which any person joining the armed forces must pledge to obey the orders of the president – so, in saying he will refuse to follow Obama’s orders, Stein is violating his oath of office and his basic job description. And, on a completely different level, is this really that different from a civilian being fired after publicly bad-mouthing his or her boss online? Moreover, can someone who admits they don’t want to follow orders be trusted in a combat situation?
This isn’t Stein’s first clash with his superiors. He was originally warned by the Marine Corps in 2010 that he needed to take down his Facebook page, because it was against Pentagon rules. He initially took the page down, and later put it back online.
He was also warned not to post political content online while at work, another rule he’s apparently refused to follow. All things considered, asking employees to stay off Facebook while at work seems fairly reasonable and not any more restrictive than most private sector jobs. Stein has currently been transferred to a desk job without access to a computer while he fights dismissal.
What do Care2 readers think? Is this a case of free speech being trampled, or do you side with the Marine Corps?
Photo credit: Official US Navy Imagery