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How much freedom of speech should be free for members of the military?

The Facebook homepage for Armed Forces Tea Party.
The Facebook homepage for Armed Forces Tea Party.
Paige Osburn/KPCC

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The debate over the first amendment right to freedom of speech has taken many forms and been argued for years. This case out of Camp Pendleton involves nine-year Marine sergeant veteran Gary Stein, who made disparaging and critical remarks about President Obama on Facebook, calling the president a coward and “the economic and religious enemy.” He also created a political interest page called Armed Forces Tea Party.

During a Marine Corps administrative board hearing yesterday, Stein’s defense team argued that he was exercising his first amendment rights while “off-duty,” but the prosecution countered that Stein’s behavior constituted a violation of Pentagon policy limiting the free speech rights of service members.

After hearing the case, the board found that Sergeant Stein committed misconduct and recommended he be dismissed with an “other-than-honorable discharge,” which would make him ineligible for veterans’ benefits.


An expert witness maintains that the law around these issues is murky, especially for member of the military, and cites a 1996 case he claims sets the precedent—does the speech in question present “clear danger to order and discipline?” Can a member of the military ever be “off-duty?” Is an “other-than-honorable” discharge and loss of benefits a fair punishment? How might this outcome differ in another line of work?


Jeff Addicott, 20 year JAG officer and former senior legal counsel to the Green Berets; professor of law at the Center for Terrorism Law; an expert witness in yesterday’s administrative board hearing

Lieutenant Colonel Hal Kempfer, retired Marine Lt. Col., CEO, KIPP, homeland security consulting firm