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. SeniorMoment

    A lot of people don't like their boss or the chain of bosses above them including the company CEO, but in all cases, except where you have been given the person's permission to complain about him or her negatively in public can you avoid the risk of that causing your firing. The military has rules though which formalize what in private industry is widely practiced. It is one thing to make constructive criticisms especially to the person directly, but a completely different thing to do that in public. It undermines the authority of your own boss, who might also be at risk for hiring you in the first place.

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

    I thought when you joined up you lost all rights. Free speech. If you want that boy, go to college. Probably too stupid if that's even possible these days.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. getalife

    Everyone please stop this 'freedom of speech' stuff...It has nothing to do with it. It's written in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It states that you cannot bad mouth your president. Even those who have gotten out are still adhered to this, at least for 6 years afterward. And by the way, it wasn't the president who discharged this marine. It was his comments and his lack of knowledge of the UCMJ.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. raven

    Personal integrity has fallen by the wayside. We used to fight wars eyeball to eyeball because wars were fought for the common good. Now, it's all personal and special interest groups fighting under one blanket, with no regard FOR that blanket.And it's trickled down into a person by person disregard.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chuckh

    His job was to preserve democracy, not practice it. He failed. As a veteran, I understood that my obligation included suspending my personal exercise of American freedoms for the greater good. I chose to separate after we elected a President that I chose not to follow (Clinton). The sergeant had the same option, but didn't have the discipline required, and deserved the penalty assessed.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Donald in CA

    If you dont like the military rules and regulations you should stay out of it and start your own business. Collectings cans is self-employed.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ryan

    You don't insult the commander of the U.S Armed Forces.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. rob2tall

    Its akin to telling your employer that you refuse to do as told to do.This Marine made a fool out of himself-as a former Army enlisted individual-we were told to keep our opinions about the commander in chief to ourselves or face discipline -that was under Nixon and during Vietnam. Freedoms are lost when you enlist to serve. If he was so anti orders-why not just resign or request an early out? But no-he decided to disgrace the entire Marine Corps.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. J

    I fail to understand why this is newsworthy. This marine knowingly violated the UCMJ with his comments; the UCMJ that he took an oath to adhere to when he enlisted/re-enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Millions of other soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen keep their political positions and views private in the interest of putting service first, and this marine disrespects every single one of them by thinking he is some sort of exception to the rule.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. gyver

    Go on Facebook and to work and make the same comments about your boss and see what happens. This is not a freedom of speech issue. It is about a Marine who got too involved in politics. Even when he tried to clarify some of his remarks by saying he meant not going to combat without congressional approval, he was still wrong. The Marine Corps is the only branch of service that was always able to be deployed in harms way without the approval of congress. As the POTUS can deploy troops in combat for 60 days without congressional approval under the War Powers Act. The National Security Act of 1947 states Marines " shall perform such other duties as the President may direct". This guys 15 minutes of fame needs to be over!!!

    April 25, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. igbins74

    That you getalife, many of this people on here just want to say what they have no idea about. He should have be discharged with Dishonorable so he can see that you cannot do certain things while in the military. I served Nine years and I know the law and he said he is SGT too, that makes it bad because if he was a privateI will understand because he does not know anything. He should be ashamed by coming out want to say his story please you are a Disgraced to people in Uniform and hope you dont get any benefit.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Former

    Sounds like a Ted Nugent groupie, maybe he just wanted out?

    April 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. louie

    I am very liberal socially; however the first thing I learned in the military was you don’t criticize the commander publicly. Marines are our first line of defense. He shamed himself as a marine.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. StuporDave

    I don't want Stein "on that wall" to defend my country or me, if his judgment is so poor that he criticizes the man who took down bin Laden, but has nothing to say about his predecessor, whose judgment was quite obviously equally poor. Let's hope he's an aberration and not an example of the human intel populating the service.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • GIGmeAByte

      what do you say about the author of Battle On The Homefront?

      April 25, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ernie13x

    This is not a freedom of speech issue. Not when you serve in the military. Male or female, we're called "GI's"–Government Issued. Our employer is the Dept of Defense, i.e. the Federal Gov't. Our boss is our Commander-in-Chief, our POTUS. There's an expected code of conduct, one we're all made aware of in the very beginning. As service members, we don't publically disrespect our boss, the President. I don't think that works well in the civilian sector either. Try it, you'll probably meet the same fate. You can play the First Amendment card if you like but you'll be fired just the same.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • allenwoll

      EXACTLY - AND correctly so ! ! !

      April 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • camian

      Don't they use personal microchips so maybe that would make a person available for surveillance 24/24.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raphael

      I think he wanted to be discharged, so he wouldn't have to serve anymore for a cause he doesn't believe in. Is this a sign that faith in the wars that we are always fighting in the Middle East is eroding? My question is: how can Congress and the President send our youth to fight a war that they wouldn't send their own children to fight in? Why are we there in the first place? I agree with all of the other comments that he did not have a right to criticize the President, but on the other hand, I think those of us who are civilians should question the mission of our military over there. I would just like to know one reason why we are still fighting in Afghanistan for a corrupt government that is supported by drug warlords making profit from the international heroin trade. I am sure our troops over there have ideas about why we are over there and probably know more than civilians do, but still, I just don't think it makes any sense to be over there in a place that some historians refer to as the graveyard of empires.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
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