April 25th, 2012
07:13 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Soldiers can't say whatever they want, or can they?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Sgt. Gary Stein was given an "other-than-honorable" discharge for using his Facebook page to criticize President Barack Obama, said Capt. Brian Block, a spokesman for the Marines. We received thousands of comments from our readers, with many of them saying that a soldier cannot criticize the president any more than an employee should publicly critique their boss or CEO.

Marine discharged over online Obama comments

This was the most-liked comment:

rshanks66: "This is not a freedom of speech issue. It’s a military code of conduct issue. The president is the Commander in Chief. As a member of the service, you do not have the right to say you’re 'not going to follow orders.' It doesn’t matter if you like the officer or not. Everyone knows that."

But could there be unintended consequences?

Scott Giddens: "I don't care who you are or who you voted for. I would not make fun or joke about when the government aggressively silences dissident views even if it was justified. It simply smells bad. More than likely, the soldier was made an example to prevent more dissidence. If more soldiers did this, say 25-50, I wonder what the government would do then. This could backfire on us, with soldiers defending their fellow soldiers first and their country second."

In the business world, some readers argued, one must choose their words.

Sean: "Can I post nonsense about my boss and not expect to be terminated? Like or not, Obama is the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Military. This Marine should have understood his oath, and saved his views for after his discharge. MacArthur should have served as his precedent."

Some lamented the decision to discharge Stein.

Raebo: "A Marine who used his Facebook page to criticize President Barack Obama has been discharged. The key word here is 'HIS' Facebook page. And you thought this type of big brother interference only took place in places where human rights are not protected. He should at least for now be thankful for one thing. In North Korea, you are executed."

Another reader said they had to hold their tongue when they served.

royboy361: "As a retired military member myself I don't feel a bit sorry for this guy. The president is his commander and chief. You don't say anything that puts the President in an unflattering light no matter who is President. If that was the case I would have said things about George Bush. Show this guy the door and don't let it hit you on the way out. You should have known better!"

One person said they smell hypocrisy.

accorn: "We live in a funny world. Soldiers are not allowed to have political opinions ... apparently to protect the purity of our republic and their role in it, yet we have no problem with corporations buying and owning our candidates."

This commenter suggested a more severe discharge.

David1154: "I disagree. He should have been given a dishonorable discharge. Other-than-honorable is too good for him. He knew the rules and he knowingly violated the UCMJ. Just because the president is not to your liking does not matter. He is the commander in chief, and you're not. You follow all lawful orders, like it or not."

Potentially, this user suggested, this incident is a sign of growing discontent with U.S. military activity.

tullymd: "At least he didn't in vain in the failed, futile Afghan war. The average soldier knows this war is ridiculous and secretly or not so secretly holds our leadership in contempt. Burning Korans, urinating on corpses etc are only the beginnings of what we'll see as their frustration bursts forth.. Get ready for a well deserved national humiliation ala Vietnam."

There were users who said they wouldn't disagree with the soldier's views, but they don't like his actions.

Tr1Xen: "I agree with this decision. As many of you regulars know, I'm the last person you'll see defending Obama, but it is grossly inappropriate for an active member of the armed forces to make any public comments–particularly in writing via a social medium such as Facebook - decrying the commander-in-chief as a "domestic enemy." Sgt. Stein was absolutely in the wrong here - no ifs, ands, or buts. It's not acceptable under any circumstance, election year or not."

Some people wondered what is happening to the country.

InterestingStory: "There is no freedom of speech in America. You get flagged or blocked for speaking the truth."

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Marines • Military • Overheard on CNN.com • Politics
soundoff (159 Responses)
  1. citizen

    Join the military and the ucmj takes precidense.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      No one is required to join the military. you know the rules going in and he was reminded of the rules when he was violating them. If you are going to break the rules, face the consequences

      April 25, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • RoqDawg

      All military personnel take an oath. They are required to follow the UCMJ. They do not have the right to publicly question the authority or orders of those in their chain of command or higher ranking members period. If they wish to question an order they must ask permission and the discussion should take place out of earshot of others. Freedom of Speech does not apply to military personnel.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Portland tony

    There is no room for discussion. There's only one Captain of a ship and if you dispute that fact you will be figuratively or even maybe literally be thrown overboard! Military personnel don't get to vote on which order to follow. Jeez.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    You can say whatever you want to say. Just don't be stupid and put it on a public forum, especially using your own name.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tkret

    I was in the service also, and whether I liked it or not, I had to follow orders. Those of you who don't understand this philosophy should do some reading on the military's reasoning for this rule. You of course can agree or disagree with their rationale, but in a military setting, believe me, it is the only way you can survive.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      True, the only time you can refuse an order is if it is an illegal order.

      Several National Guardsmen in New Orleans refused an order to dis- arm citizens. Not legal.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Greg

    I think the really big issue, was not that he criticized the president per se, but he specifically said that he reserved the right to refuse any orders that the president issued. Being that the president is the commander and chief of the armed forces, that's insubordination. Also, as part of being in the military, one's rights are curtailed quite a bit, partially due to national security concerns, as well as to maintain a certain order and discipline among the troops.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    Military discipline is first.
    If one conducts a symphony orchestra, he may have to prove that he is in control at the first rehearsal. Then there's still a musicians' union.
    The military services are not an organised labour force or a democracy.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ruetienne

    no tears for another knucklehead who thinks he can criticize his boss and draw a government check at the same time. Go join the tea party! They're good at criticizing gov't programs while not wanting the government to touch their medicare. Whew!

    April 25, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ziegfeldf

    Maybe we need to distinguish between saying that you're not going to obey orders and actually not obeying orders.

    Speech is protected; actions are not.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom K

      In this case speech is NOT protected. As a Non Commissioned Officer what he did was prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the Corps. Had he been a Commissioned Officer the charge would have been Conduct Unbecoming and Officer. What he said could have sparked mutiny or other conduct affecting the overall mission of the Corps. Was he 'made an example of'? No, he just chose a very public forum to spew his drivel.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Vladimir

    The guy is just saying how many other military personnel feel. I expect more will use this tactic to get out early because some rather get out early than serve under the Apologizer-in-Chief in a war we have no exit strategy for.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Apologizer-in Chief?
      Please.
      No exit strategy?
      Whose fault is that?
      Hint: it's notour current POTUS.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1nd3p3n3nt

      which war did obama get us into without no exit strategy?

      April 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. eric

    OTH he should got a BCD, that what i would have push for, there no demadont repui cant in the arm-forces he got his just deserved.........UCMJ for you take an oath , he violated and he got what i think he deserved!!!!!

    April 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    Very well said Joey.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Donna

    What ever happened to freedom of speech. Everyone should have the right to speak their minds without worry of repercusions.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      You do not get it do you.....Stupid is as stupid does and this former marine is an idiot and anyone who thinks this is a free speech issue is just as stupid and this former "jarhead".

      April 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1nd3p3n3nt

      not in the military donna. It gets covered in basic training. It's in print, easy to read. There's no bait and switch, no games, clear cut you lose your rights to certain things once you join the military.

      and there are very good reasons for it.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. eric

    just wait he be on some dumb talk show next week , he getting what he wated TV time

    April 25, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. leo maniace

    no matter how stupid the president my be if you are in the military you have to obey the orders of the idiot in chief.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      No matter who that idiot may be.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Steve

    Fox will soon hire him as a commentator.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat) ©

      He'll fit right in with the rest of the anti-Obamas.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
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