(AP) CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Marine facing dismissal for running a Facebook page criticizing the Obama administration is now backed by a team of lawyers and federal congressmen as he fights to stay in the military and test its age-old policy of limiting the free speech of service members.
Sgt. Gary Stein will appear before a military board at Camp Pendleton on Thursday to argue his case.
The 26-year-old Marine has been rallying for support since he was notified last month that the military was moving to discharge him after determining he was in violation of the Pentagon policy barring service members from engaging in political activities.
Stein’s lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union say his views are protected by the First Amendment.
“The military may be different from the civilian world, but it’s not exempt from the First Amendment,” said David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “Sgt. Stein didn’t say anything for which the Marine Corps has any right to punish him. He did not threaten order or discipline or take positions that anyone would attribute to the Corps. Indeed, the Corps is threatening loyalty and morale by persecuting a good Marine for exercising his free speech rights.”
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 those orders included detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights.
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