SAN DIEGO – A federal judge denied a request Friday to block military discharge proceedings against a Camp Pendleton Marine who called President Barack Obama an enemy on Facebook.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff ruled the military has the right to respond to Sgt. Gary Stein's online comments in a case that has called into question the Pentagon's policies regarding social media and the limits regarding the speech of active duty military personnel.
A military panel has recommended to a general that Stein be given an other-than-honorable discharge that also would strip him of all benefits.
A general must still decide the outcome, but Stein's lawyers argued Friday in federal court in San Diego that Huff had the right to intervene because the ongoing proceedings go too far and are chilling the speech of Stein and other service members.
Attorney J. Mark Brewer told Huff the entire process violates the First Amendment, which federal courts have the right to uphold.
Huff disagreed, calling Stein's postings "truly troubling." Service members have had their speech limited since the Civil War, especially if their comments are believed to disrupt good order and discipline.
The judge pointed out Stein's March 1 comments on a Facebook page used by Marine Corps meteorologists in which the sergeant stated, "Screw Obama and I will not follow all orders from him."
Stein went on to state that he supports and defends the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
"Obama is the economic enemy ... He is the religious enemy ... he is the 'Fundamentally change' America enemy ... he IS the Domestic Enemy," Stein wrote, according to court documents filed by prosecutors based on a screen grab of the page.
Stein later clarified in a posting that he would not follow any unlawful orders from the president. Huff commended Stein for doing that, but she said "nevertheless, he made a very strong statement."
In making her ruling, Huff told Stein that service members have several options to appeal any ruling within the military, including asking for a review by a board of civilians.
Stein acknowledged after the hearing that the options are available only after he has been discharged — which he wants to stop from happening.
The nine-year veteran who served in Iraq said he should not have his career wiped out for "15 words on Facebook."
"I've never disobeyed any order," said Stein, whose service ends July 28. He has said he wants to re-enlist.
"It's like a boxing match," he said of Friday's ruling. "I'm down two rounds now."
Stein plans to continue to fight outside the military and go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.