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Gary Stein, Marine Sergeant's 'Armed Forces Tea Party Patriots' Facebook Page Tests Military Rules

By JULIE WATSON   03/ 7/12 07:34 PM ET  AP

Gary Stein

SAN DIEGO -- Marine Sgt. Gary Stein first started a Facebook page called Armed Forces Tea Party Patriots to encourage service members to exercise their free speech rights. Then he declared that he wouldn't follow orders from the commander in chief, President Barack Obama.

While Stein softened his statement to say he wouldn't follow "unlawful orders," military observers say he may have gone too far.

The Marine Corps is now looking into whether he violated the military's rules prohibiting political statements by those in uniform and broke its guidelines on what troops can and cannot say on social media. Stein said his views are constitutionally protected.

While troops have always expressed their views in private, Stein's case highlights the potential for their opinions to go global as tech-savvy service members post personal details, videos and pictures that can hurt the military's image at home and abroad.

"I think that it's been pretty well established for a long time that freedom of speech is one area in which people do surrender some of their basic rights in entering the armed forces," said former Navy officer David Glazier, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"Good order and discipline require the military maintain respect for the chain of command," Glazier said. "That includes prohibiting speech critical of the senior officers in that chain of command – up to and including the commander in chief."

According to Pentagon directives, military personnel in uniform can't sponsor a political club; participate in any TV or radio program or group discussion that advocates for or against a political party, candidate or cause; or speak at any event promoting a political movement.

Commissioned officers also may not use contemptuous words against senior officials, including the defense secretary or the president.

In January, an Army reservist wearing camouflaged fatigues got into trouble for taking the stage during a rally in Iowa with Republican presidential candidate and Texas congressman Ron Paul.

Stein was first cautioned by his superiors at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, in 2010 after he launched his Facebook page, criticizing Obama's health care overhaul. Stein volunteered to take down the page while he reviewed the rules at the request of his superiors.

He said he determined he was not in violation and relaunched the page under the shortened account name Armed Forces Tea Party. Last week, he said his superiors told him he couldn't use social media sites on government computers after he posted the message stating he would not follow unlawful orders of the president.

Stein said his statement was part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan.

In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if those orders included detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights.

Another Marine alerted his command about the statement, Stein said.

Stein said he respects the office of the president, but he does not agree with Obama's policies. He said he is within his rights to speak up.

"Just because I'm a Marine doesn't mean I don't have free speech or can't say my personal opinion about the president or other public official just like anybody else," Stein said. "The Constitution trumps everything else."

Stein said it's positive when service members are well-versed on the Constitution and what's going on in government.

"When we know what we're fighting for, we fight harder," he said.

The Marine Corps said Stein is allowed to express his personal opinions as long as they do not give the impression he is speaking in his official capacity as a Marine. Spokesman Maj. Michael Armistead said the Corps is taking a closer look to ensure Stein has not crossed that line.

"At this time, he has not been asked to take down the statement on his page," he said.

Stein appears in a dress shirt and tie on his Facebook page but he also describes himself as "a conservative blogger, speaker, the founder of the Armed Forces Tea Party and active-duty, eight-year Marine Corps veteran."

Marine Sgt. Jerret Wright, who liked Stein's page, said Stein "probably skirted the line a little bit" with his latest message about not following Obama's orders, but his boldness in expressing his views has been refreshing in a community that often feels silenced.

"People assume that we're zombies with an on-and-off switch, and that we listen to orders and do nothing else," Wright said.

Military observers say it's not that simple. They say it is bad form to lash out at the commander in chief. Experts also say his Facebook postings appear to link his professional standing with his political views.

They also point out that the Pentagon policy is necessary in preventing political and religious debates that could divide a unit and disrupt the strong working relationship that is needed to carry out missions, Glazier said.

"There are plenty of examples in the world of militaries heavily involved in influencing political events that have shown that is not conducive to civilian rule of law," he said.

Wondering if you should post that thing to Facebook? Check out our slideshow of 10 social media gaffes that got people fired:
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  • Homeless Shelter Worker Fired For Calling Job "Spooky"

    An employee at a residential facility for the homeless was <a href="http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202518321075&slreturn=1" target="_hplink">fired after posting on Facebook about an overnight shift</a> and apparently making light of the fact that many of the residents are mentally ill. <a href="http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/id/ldue-8k6pyz/$File/Martin House - Facebook.pdf" target="_hplink">According to a National Labor Relations Board document, she wrote,</a> "Spooky is overnight, third floor, alone in a mental institution, btw Im not a client, not yet anyway." The post was reported to the managers of the facility by a former resident who was Facebook friends with the employee.

  • Gay High School Coach Fired Over Facebook Photos

    A water polo coach at a California high school has filed a discrimination complaint against the school district after being fired over his Facebook photos. <a href="http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_19069184" target="_hplink">According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune,</a> a parent sent copies of the photos to the school's principal along with a letter declaring him "unfit to coach." The photos showed the him "posing with two drag queens" and "about to eat a corn dog," <a href="http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_19069184" target="_hplink">writes the Tribune</a>.

  • Bank Employee Let Go For Posting About Superior's Salary

    Stephanie Bon, a former HR assistant at Britain's Lloyds Banking Group, <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373723/Bank-worker-Stephanie-Bon-fired-Facebook-post-Lloyds-boss-4k-hour-salary.html" target="_hplink">was fired after posting a comment</a> about the fact that her boss made more money than she. <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373723/Bank-worker-Stephanie-Bon-fired-Facebook-post-Lloyds-boss-4k-hour-salary.html" target="_hplink">According to the Daily Mail</a>, her controversial Facebook status update read, "LBG's new CEO gets £4,000 an hour. I get £7. That's fair."

  • Doctor Fired For Posting About Trauma Patient

    <a href="http://articles.boston.com/2011-04-20/lifestyle/29451939_1_social-media-patient-emergency-room" target="_hplink">According to the Boston.com</a>, a 48-year-old Rhode Island doctor was fired after she posted information about a trauma patient on her Facebook page. While Dr. Than didn't reveal the patient's name, <a href="http://www.health.ri.gov/discipline/MDAlexandraThran.pdf" target="_hplink">the hospital board concluded</a> that she had posted enough information that people who knew the patient would know who Dr. Than was talking about. Not only was the doctor fired and reprimanded by state regulators, but she also had to pay $500 and attend a continuing education class.

  • Teen Fired For Complaining About 'Boring' Job

    A British teenager was fired after updating her Facebook status with comments about how bored she was with her job as an administrative assistant at a product development and sourcing company. "[A]ll i do is shred holepunch n scan paper!!! omg!" read one of her comments, <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1155971/Teenage-office-worker-sacked-moaning-Facebook-totally-boring-job.html#ixzz1aP7zuSQ7" target="_hplink">according to the Daily Mail</a>. "I think it is really sad," the teen said of her termination, <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1155971/Teenage-office-worker-sacked-moaning-Facebook-totally-boring-job.html#ixzz1aP7zuSQ7" target="_hplink">per the Daily Mail</a>, "it makes them look stupid that they are going to be so petty."

  • Cop Canned After Resident Complains About Profile

    <a href="http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2009/01/18/449207/2-officers-lose-jobs-over-online.html" target="_hplink">According to Wasgington's Tri-City Herald</a>, state police officer Matt Blahut was given the option of resignation after a resident complained about photos on his friends-only profile that showed him drinking. The local father became alarmed when he saw his daughter looking at Blahut's profile, <a href="http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2009/01/18/449207/2-officers-lose-jobs-over-online.html" target="_hplink">he told the Herald</a>. "He's saying he's drunk. It shows him in uniform ... Law enforcement's supposed to set an example for these kids," <a href="http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2009/01/18/449207/2-officers-lose-jobs-over-online.html" target="_hplink">the man said</a>. Within days of the complaint Blahut was given his walking papers. "If we see this kind of judgment early on in somebody's career, what's to come?" <a href="http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2009/01/18/449207/2-officers-lose-jobs-over-online.html" target="_hplink">State Patrol Captain Jeff DeVere told the paper</a>.

  • Cop Fired For 'Compromising' DUI Checkpoint

    <a href="http://www.fox16.com/news/local/story/Shannon-Hills-Police-Officer-fired-over-Facebook/VBd65bX4Jkybk5YkXb4Clw.cspx" target="_hplink">Fox 16 reports</a> that an Arkansas police officer Scott Chaloner was fired after posting the following on his Facebook page: "If you live in Alexander and you're drinking and driving, get yourself a designated driver. If you don't and you're out on the streets, you'll wish you had. just a word to the wise." While the officer's superior said his post compromised a planned DUI checkpoint, Chaloner maintains that the statement was merely a public service announcement, <a href="http://www.fox16.com/news/local/story/Shannon-Hills-Police-Officer-fired-over-Facebook/VBd65bX4Jkybk5YkXb4Clw.cspx" target="_hplink">according to Fox 16</a>.

  • Professor Fired After Posting About Student's Test Scores

    Jason Liptow, a professor at a Michigan community college, <a href="http://www.themorningsun.com/articles/2011/07/07/news/doc4e14e00d92218189097398.txt?viewmode=fullstory" target="_hplink">was fired after using a failing student as a cautionary tale</a> in a Facebook status post, <a href="http://www.themorningsun.com/articles/2011/07/07/news/doc4e14e00d92218189097398.txt?viewmode=fullstory" target="_hplink">according to Michigan's Morning Sun</a>. "Student emailed me wanting to know how he could pass the class, he hadn't been there and failed three open-book tests," wrote Liptow, <a href="http://www.themorningsun.com/articles/2011/07/07/news/doc4e14e00d92218189097398.txt?viewmode=fullstory" target="_hplink">per the Sun</a>. Liptow claimed he was let go because of his plans to form a teacher's union and not because of the status update.

  • Firefighter Facebook Fired For Allegedly Bigoted Posts

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  • Teacher Fired For Joking About Drowning Her Students

    <a href="http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/facebook_vent_burns_teacher_JiHBB6wQwDljiYVfcUiIpN#ixzz1aOyc7yMg" target="_hplink">In March, the New York Post reported</a> that Brooklyn school teacher Christine Rubino could lose her job after writing the following on Facebook: "After today, I'm thinking the beach is a good trip for my class. I hate their guts." She was supposedly referencing an incident that had occurred the previous day, in which a New York student had drowned while on a field trip to the beach. While only Rubino's Facebook friends could see what she posted to Facebook, one of them was a fellow teacher who forwarded her comment to the principal.

  • Woman Fired For Calling Boss A 'Complete Tool'

    Leila Goodman of North Carolina was fired after calling her boss a "complete tool" because the company she worked for had decided not to allow employees to work overtime. <a href="http://www.wxii12.com/news/25761585/detail.html" target="_hplink">According to an attorney interviewed by WXII12.com,</a> the firing was legal since Goodman's comments fall under insubordination and not protected speech.

  • Woman Calls Boss A Mental Patient, Gets Fired

    Dawnmarie Souza, a medical technician, was fired for repeatedly bashing her boss on Facebook. <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/social.media/11/09/facebook.firing/index.html" target="_hplink">According to CNN,</a> the mildest of these disparagements was "comparing the supervisor to a psychiatric patient." However, the National Labor Relations Board, believes the firing was unlawful and filed a complaint against the company, saying that workers' criticism of their bosses on Facebook is "protected concerted activity."

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