Wednesday, May 05, 2010

ACLU defends rights of those in uniform to criticize government in public

Pendleton Marine back on Facebook
ACLU defends rights of those in uniform to criticize government in public

By Jeanette Steele,
April 14, 2010

CAMP PENDLETON — Marine Sgt. Gary Stein is back on Facebook with an Armed Forces Tea Party page Wednesday.

A day earlier, his story had sparked widespread debate over the rights of uniform wearers to criticize the government in public forums such as social media sites.

The San Diego office of the American Civil Liberties Union fired off a letter Wednesday afternoon to Camp Pendleton, where Stein is stationed, advising commanders that the sergeant’s speech had been “chilled” Tuesday when he was recalled to base just before he was scheduled to conduct a television interview about his three-week-old Tea Party site...

Marine spokeswoman Maj. Gabrielle Chapin said Wednesday that Stein can administer the Facebook site as a private individual, as long as he follows the Pentagon directives, which include a provision that blogs must be written on one’s own time and computer.

But the ACLU has concerns about the legality of the Pentagon’s entire list of rules, which say that military personnel can’t speak before political groups or advocate a political cause to the media or other group discussions.

“We have serious First Amendment problems with that,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU’s San Diego office.

“We think service members ought to be entitled to virtually the same free speech rights as civilians with very limited exceptions for the necessity of combat,” Blair-Loy said in an interview Wednesday.

“Is the average civilian going to assume that the Marine Corps endorses what (Stein) says, just because he says he’s a Marine? I don’t think anybody would believe that.”

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