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. Piry

    If he feel that strong to critic the President then he could have wait until is normal ETS. As a soldier he broke the code of conduct and he is a disgrace to the service. I am amazed of the garbage is coming from this so called new GI's. Read your contract before your sign for the services if you dont like dont sign it.

    For the people than think is not fair too bad he sign his life away in that contract. Plain and simple soldiers are not civilians and we follow different law. BTW if you badmouth your boss dont you believe that you can get fire?

    I think he get out easy because I would have given him a dishonorable discharge.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. camian

    So mass murder is OK? How about the wars we are being drugged in..Killing is good but free association and free exchange of opinion is subject of surveillance and incrimination. WoW !!!

    April 25, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1nd3p3n3nt

      it's because they're involved in killing that discipline is such a priority. Perhaps you should read some books about military history. The USMC takes lessons all the way back to sparta.

      people who have served know the following:
      don't lose your bearing!

      April 25, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randall -- God's Chosen One

      Whew! Time to stop smoking whatever it is that you are smoking, my friend. You sound a little insane.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • abson09

      I don't know the principles he should follow before he decided to make that statement, but i do know, everyone who follows Tea Parties movements always get him or herself into troubles. This young man is sincerely repented and i think, he deserves a second chance.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Doodle Bug

    The man is willing to give his life for freedom.....He ought to have the right to freedom of speech. Especially considering it's the TRUTH.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Johnson

    No they can't. Be it little Bush or Obama – the Commander in Chief should be respected by the troops. This individual now a disgraced Marine deserves what he got and can spend the rest of his life contemplating on what he did.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sy2502

    First Amendment has nothing to do with it. If I call my boss vulgar names on Facebook, the 1st Amendment protects me from going to jail because of it, not from my boss firing me. He was stupid for posting that stuff on Facebook and stupid people don't deserve to be honorably discharged. I hope this young man learned a valuable lesson for the future.

    April 25, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 1nd3p3n3nt

    seems pretty clear cut. Anyone who has served in the military knows you can't criticize or insult an officer, yet alone the commander in chief.

    there is no freedom of speech in the military. Our proud men and women give up some of their rights to better protect and serve our country. They're willing to give up their life, not just their freedom of speech.

    again, seems like a straight forward issue.
    the ucmj doesn't leave much wiggle room.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. EJ in Metro Houston

    regardless how I may feel about my boss if I were to be critcal of him, on FACEBOOK especially I too would be fired. Even freedom of speech has guidelines of respect. There is NO law that says you have to love or even like your boss. At least respect him or her.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. iss100eric

    First I should state that I am anti-war. I spent too many years in service and saw too many wars to be otherwise. Tha being said, This is absolutely not a freedom of speech situation. During their basic training every military person receives hours of classroom training on the UCMJ and what the military requires and expects including penalties for violations thereof. He had a choice. Stay in service and follow the rules or not re-up and speak up. The UCMJ applies 24/7/365. He is posturing for the political enemies of the President when he says to the contrary. Frankly his actions speak more to his lack of character than of his taking a principled stand. We are better off without him in service as his playing 'baby games' is a needless distraction.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raphael

      My question is: what if he wanted to be honorably discharged, so he can go back to his family and avoid having to serve again? I think he is getting what he wants.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jerry walters

    I do not want people like this guy in our military. President Obama is the Commander in Chief and this young punk needs to shut up and follow orders. It is not optional; it is 100% certain.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. pierre 0311

    I thought the USA had free speech , I guess not and when the military ask for volunteers tell the US to stick it you owe
    this country nothing, I spilled blood for this country as a Marine and would never do it again.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1nd3p3n3nt

      if you were a marine, then you'd know the UCMJ. Clearly states you cannot talk bad about ANY officer, yet alone the commander in chief.

      you realize what happens when you refuse to salute an officer, yet alone insult them?

      April 25, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark

      What you do cut your self shaving or was it a paper cut

      April 25, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hoosiercrabb

    Mouthing off about the President while still serving is bordering on treason. He's your boss; don't like it? Resign then speak your piece. Don't be surprised when you get fired. Good luck now that you've wiped your ass on our flag.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randall -- God's Chosen One

      AMEN!!!

      This whiner should have read the fine print, and by fine print, I mean the OATH he took when he joined up.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. 1nd3p3n3nt

    sure, WSJ owned and operated by rupert murdoch, sure they're not biased.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. St. Mike

    You don't criticise the Commander-in Chief on facebook if you are in the military!!!!!! You keep your criticisms private!!!!!!!!

    Free speech is not applicable when in the military!!!!!!

    April 25, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randall -- God's Chosen One

      This guy acts like he never heard of such a thing. Most guys in uniform don't even want to discuss their politics.

      This whole thing is no different from all the other people who get caught by the boss while they are dissin' him. Gary Stein needs to quit his whining and go get a job.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raphael

      I agree. However, I am wondering whether this situation is a good advertisement for the U.S. military when there is an increasing demand for recruits. In today's society where most people value freedom of speech, who wants to be a part of a system where people have no voice? The fact is, whether this Marine posts his opinion on Facebook or not, he will still have his private opinions about the President. I realize though, that he does have to follow the orders of his commander in chief.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Schadenfreudean Psychologist

    So, we're still looking for a few good men with fully functioning brains?

    April 25, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. t-bonewest

    This guy is the next Timothy McVeigh

    April 25, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randall -- God's Chosen One

      I was thinking the same thing!!!

      April 25, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
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