Courtesy Gary Stein via AP
Marine Sgt. Gary Stein, who started a Facebook page critical of President Obama, in an undated photo.
An unusual band of free speech groups are trying to stop the Marine Corps from kicking a sergeant out of the service for posting statements critical of President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials on Facebook.
Sgt. Gary Stein, who has been a Marine for nine years, started a Facebook page called "Armed Forces Tea Party" in which he says he wouldn’t follow unlawful orders from Obama, and criticized Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for comments made about Syria. Stein has said he created the page as a way to encourage fellow service members to exercise their free speech rights.
The lawyers backing Stein filed a lawsuit to halt a discharge hearing scheduled for Thursday at Camp Pendleton in California in order to give them more time to prepare for his defense. They argued their case before federal judge Marilyn Huff in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California on Wednesday afternoon. Their attempt to get a restraining order to postpone the military hearing, however, was denied, David Loy, legal director for the San Diego branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, told msnbc.com.
Thus, the military hearing will determine if Stein should be discharged from the Marines when his enlistment ends in July. Stein has expressed his wish to stay in the service.
The Marines said Stein violated a Pentagon policy barring troops from political activities and should be discharged.
Lawyers fighting Stein’s removal from the Marines come from groups often at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The United States Justice Foundation is a conservative-leaning group frequently critical of the Obama administration. On its website the group tracks issues such as the president’s birth origin and his health care policies.
Joining the USJF in backing Stein is the ACLU, often considered liberal leaning. The San Diego branch of the ACLU on Wednesday issued a statement that it has joined in defending Stein’s free speech rights.
"The military may be different from the civilian world, but it’s not exempt from the First Amendment," Loy, legal director for ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, said in a statement. "Sergeant 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."
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