CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A Marine is facing dismissal from the military for posting Facebook images of President Obama’s face superimposed on a jackass and for selling “Nobama” bumper stickers online, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Sgt. Gary Stein, 26, acted irresponsibly and disregarded repeated warnings that his anti-administration postings violated Pentagon policy involving members of the military, Marine Corps Capt. John Torresala said during a hearing at Camp Pendleton.
Comments that were prejudicial to good order and discipline were posted on the Facebook page used by military meteorologists and could have influenced junior Marines, the prosecutor said.
Backed by a team of lawyers and congressmen, Sgt. Stein is fighting to stay in the military and test its longtime policy of limiting the free speech of members.
His lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union contend his views are protected by the First Amendment.
Sgt. Stein has rallied 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.
“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.”
In addition to being discharged, Sgt. Stein said, he would have his rank reduced to lance corporal if he is proven to be in violation.
He said he was removed from his job at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego on Wednesday and given a desk job with no access to computers.
Mr. Loy said Sgt. Stein did not threaten order or discipline or take positions that anyone would attribute to the Corps. Instead, the Corps is threatening loyalty and morale in its ranks by persecuting a Marine for exercising his free speech rights, Mr. Loy said.
Defense lawyers began the hearing Thursday by asking board members about their understanding of military policy limiting members from engaging in political activities and the guidelines on expressing their personal opinions.