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Obama-bashing Marine's ouster is backed by panel

Sgt. Gary Stein posted comments critical of the president on a Facebook page. His lawyers argued that the remarks were made off-duty and thus protected by the 1st Amendment.

April 06, 2012|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • Associated Press
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CAMP PENDLETON — A Marine Corps board Thursday night recommended that a sergeant who made "contemptuous" comments about President Obama be booted from the service and be given an other than honorable discharge.

Sgt. Gary Stein, who left a variety of anti-Obama comments on a Facebook page, was stoic when the three-member board announced its decision at about 11 p.m. after an all-day hearing.

The final decision on Stein's status will be made by the commanding general of the Marine Corp Recruit Depot San Diego.

Stein, 26, a nine-year veteran of the Corps, had no comment after the board announced its decision following 40 minutes of deliberation.

But Mark Brewer, one of Stein's civilian lawyers, said: "We're disappointed but we're going to keep fighting for this Marine."

During the hearing, Marine lawyers urged that Stein be kicked out of the service for comments about Obama that are "prejudicial to good order and discipline."

Stein posted comments on Facebook calling Obama a coward and "the economic and religious enemy," the Administrative Discharge Board was told. Stein urged the president's defeat in this year's election, writing "screw Obama."

"This is what he's putting out to the public, and he's a sergeant of Marines, on active duty," said Capt. John Torresala, representing Stein's commander. "How can this not be prejudicial to good order and discipline?"

But lawyers for Stein said that because his comments were made off-duty, not in his capacity as a Marine, they are protected by the 1st Amendment.

Marine rules about political expression are vague and sometimes contradictory, they argued.

Capt. James Baehr, calling the Stein case the most important of the hundreds he has handled, said that restricting Marines from engaging in political speech makes them less than first-class citizens. "How can we expect Marines to participate in citizenship if they cannot join political discussions?" he told the board.

Baehr said that Marine brass will make the Marine Corps look vindictive by seeking to oust Stein just months from the end of his enlistment.

"We don't have to do this," he said.

Stein, who served in Iraq, posted his comments on four websites, including one that he created called Armed Forces Tea Party. He has given numerous media interviews since it became known he faced discharge.

Stein, a weather forecaster by training, is assigned to scheduling the rifle ranges at Camp Pendleton. He lost the security clearance necessary for a weather forecaster because of bad debts, Torresala said.

Stein's enlistment is set to end in July, and he had hoped to reenlist. A resident of Temecula, he and his wife have a 4-year-old daughter. His wife, who is pregnant, runs a horse ranch, and Stein is a real estate agent in his off-hours.

Lawyers for his command say Stein has violated several orders restricting Marines from making partisan political statements or comments "contemptuous" of the chain of command, including the commander in chief.

On one website, Stein is selling bumper stickers that read: NOBAMA 2012.

Stein's civilian lawyers are from the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative United States Justice Foundation, two groups that are often at legal odds. Both believe that Stein is being treated unfairly and that his 1st Amendment rights are being violated.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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