A U.S. Marine who criticized President Barack Obama on his Facebook page has committed misconduct and should be dismissed, a military board recommended.
The Marine Corps administrative board made the decision late April 5 after a hearing for Sgt. Gary Stein. Steinâ€™s lawyers argued that the 9-year Marine, whose service was to end in four months, was expressing his personal views and exercising his First Amendment rights.
The board also recommended that Stein be given an other-than-honourable discharge, meaning Stein would lose his benefits and would not be allowed on any military base.
The boardâ€™s recommendations go to a general who will either accept or reject them. If the general disagrees, the case could go to the secretary of the Navy.
During the hearing, the prosecutor, Capt. John Torresala, said Stein went as far as superimposing images of Obamaâ€™s face on a poster for the movie â€œJackass.â€
Torresala argued that Steinâ€™s behaviour repeatedly violated Pentagon policy that limits the free speech rights of service members, and said he should be dismissed after ignoring warnings from his superiors.
â€œSergeant Stein has broken no law,â€ said his defence attorney, Marine Capt. James Baehr.
Stein created a Facebook page called Armed Forces Tea Party. He has said his opinions are his own and has put a disclaimer on his Facebook page saying so. His attorneys argued service members have a right to voice their opinions as long as they do not appear to be presenting their views as being endorsed by the military.
Stein has said he is fighting for his constitutional rights and should be allowed to stay in the military. His lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union contend his views are protected by the First Amendment.
â€œThink about how dangerous this could be if the U.S. government can prosecute you for something you say on your private Facebook page,â€ Baehr said.
The Marine Corps has said it decided to take administrative action after Stein declared on Facebook that he would not follow orders from Obama and later clarified that statement, saying he would not follow unlawful orders.
Stein said his statement about Obama was part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Qurâ€™an burnings in Afghanistan. In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if it involved detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights
The military has had a policy since the Civil War in the 1860s limiting the free speech of service members, including criticism of the commander in chief.
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.
Commissioned officers also may not use contemptuous words against senior officials.
Steinâ€™s security clearance was taken away and he has no future in the Marine Corps because he canâ€™t do his job without that clearance, Torresala said.