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. bigbadbaldyb

    Being a veteran, I have no sympathy for the guy. The UCMJ is pretty striaght forward. Everyone should read it sometime to see what military members have to do. We have 2 sets of laws to follow: civilian laws that everyone follows and the UCMJ which is a little more strict. The reason being is because you can't be an effective fighting force without discipline and the UCMJ was set down to help create the discipline that allowed the United States to become the foremost military in the world.

    He knew the consequences of his actions. For those of you who think that because it was on his facebook page that it should be allowed, think of the folks who don't get hired because of pictures of them drinking or doing drugs. If this guy had half a brain, he would have created another facebook page with an alias without his pictures and put is musings there. Not only did he deserve because he disobeyed the USMJ, he deserved it because he is incompetent.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Vince

    It depends....based on the posts I see the impression I get is if the president is Democrat than of course you can criticize and you have freedom of speech...if the President is Republican then you're probably anti-American and un-patriotic.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dan5404

    He said some pretty nasty things about his boss, who has every right to fire him. If he actually disobeyed an order involving combat, he would have been executed as recently as WWII. That is true of most armies.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. 1crusader

    From what I know about the military,soldiers are not allowed to openly criticize their superiors.The president is the Commander-in-Chief; and I think that the military is absolutely right for the sake of order and cohesion, to put down dissent from insubordinates within its ranks.The unit's morale and functionability is at stake.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SO

    I have to admit to getting myself in trouble four decades ago by calling a sergeant a maggot, and believe me the military made me pay and I was wrong and disrespectful. On the other hand, I had a sergeant that not only didn't do his job, but got me assualted and I never saw any displinary action ever against him. You can't speak openly or write any remarks that damage another superior when your in the military, honor has a place that much of our society overlooks or isn't recognized people have to understand no matter whom wears a uniform for our country.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      The marines need to aggressively root out their racism. Obama is the best president we've ever had. If you cannot support his policies then get out! Bush got us into wars, Obama is ending the vilence!

      April 27, 2012 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ramana7

    It's not a simple case. I guess the most unfortunate thing is that there is such an element of hatred now for the president by certain folks.

    I'll grant you that back in Bush's time, many of "us" "Liberals" were speaking badly about him. Freedom of speech is a beloved facet of our country and should not diminished in the least. Place a bookmark on that point, I will come back to it, but on the surface, though I support Obama more than not, I believe in the soldier's right to free speech.

    I also come from a military family. My dad was in the Korean war, my step-dad was in WWII, one of my brothers is a retired Marine, who served during the tail end of Vietnam. My other brother made all the way to E9 in the Navy, retiring with 26 years in and having served in the Gulf wars. No one really allowed any service members to cut down Bush. And that, even though a case COULD be made for him being an example of a president that SHOULD have been disobeyed at many turns, from torturing people to invading countries without Congress or UN support. Unilateral action like that is something I believe the military has the right, and even duty should it rise to that level, to disobey.

    What concerns me here in this case and what's going on today in our country is the amount of misinformation going around. The fact is, should we really dig and look, that Obama has done absolutely nothing that any armed forces member should be that up in arms about in the first place, at least not in the political spectrum of the Right. Obama has been very pro military and to many "Liberal's" dismay, he's been fairly war happy himself.

    So, how is Obama a domestic terrorist? What justification is there for such a scathing accusation? Nothing. There's just a lot of misinformation.

    Case in point: I receive emails from my sister (who's married to a Rush Limbaugh lover) bashing Obama with false "facts" all the time.

    The latest was a picture of Obama and Michelle saluting the flag with their LEFT hands. The gist of the email is that he's so stupid and such an embarrassment to America, he can't even solute the flag right! And my sister believes it!

    The email even goes to pains to ensure it's not a photoshopped picture. But IT IS IN FACT A PHOTO SHOPPED PICTURE!!

    This kind of thing has become rampant. I really feel much of the hatred against Obama is generated this way. You have even governors of states treating him so disrespectfully. Shaking her finger in his face on television. She deserves to lose her job more than this marine, in my opinion.

    But yet many on the Right applaud her! It's unbelievable.

    Guys, when we hated George Bush, at least we had justifiable reasons for it. He invaded countries on BS grounds, he tortured other human beings, he dropped the ball on 9/11 warnings–there was some real scandalous stuff happening.

    When you look at Obama, there's nothing at all that rises to that level of scandal. And as a president he's been so mild and centrist. But there are a lot of lies and bad feelings behind it. He's not a citizen. He's a Muslim. He's a communist. He can't salute the flag right. On and on goes the Right wing misinformation propaganda talking chambers. On and on go the malicious emails.

    I feel this Marine is a victim in a sense. He bought the hype and genuinely felt he should stand against his commander in chief. That's exactly how the Right wing propaganda wants people to respond to their endless propaganda about this president. They want them to feel their country is headed towards armageddon and Obama is driving the car.

    They succeeded with this poor marine. Now he'll pay the consequences. And that's why I have to say, it seems fair to me. The military world is not the same as the civilian man's. And it doesn't work with disrespect. And he also had a duty to find the truth of it. If you understand the truth about Obama, you may disagree with him, you may not like his policies, fair enough. But you won't feel he's a domestic terrorist out to ruin your country. You may not vote for him for other reasons, but in reality, that is just not a valid reason.

    Enough is enough.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      1) You only have the right to disobey orders that are morally wrong. Killing the enemy in battle is NOT morally wrong.
      2) He does not have the right, as I do as a (now civilian) citizen, to disparage our Honorless Fool-in-Chief. He gave that up right when he took his oath.
      3) You have the ability to express your opinion because many soldiers like him, have fought and died to preserve it. You dishonor them, and your freedoms when you disparage them.

      April 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sy2502

    Again the people who insist in invoking the 1st Amendment are displaying an abysmal ignorance of the 1st Amendment. Freedom of speech means you won't be criminally prosecuted for your words. It does NOT and I repeat, it does NOT shield you from consequences from what you say. Some people here really seem to think the 1st Amendment means you can say anything you please and nobody can hold you accountable for what you say. THAT IS NOT THE WAY IT WORKS.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. xman

    Take your lumps, shut your mouth, and serve. When you get out, then go ahead and cry like a baby all you want. But until then, honor your committment and act like the soldier/marine/airman/sailor you promised to be by complying with the UCMJ.


    April 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Recovering Republican

    He slandered his Commander in Chief, and is going to pay the price, just like any American who gets caught talking crap about his boss.
    All Americans CAN criticize their President, but they needs to do so with the full knowledge that although they have the right to free speech, this speech does not necessarily come without a cost.
    I have the personal right to criticize who I want, with no more justification required than wanting to do so. I must, however, deal with the repercussion of my speech, and my actions. This soldier is no different.

    April 26, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • morfiliwr

      Please don't equate military life with a civilian work situation.

      If you disrespect your boss in your civilian job, you simply get fired (usually). Them's the breaks.

      If you are a Marine/sailor/soldier/airman/Coastie and you badmouth the Commander-in-Chief, you can get brig time (prison), THEN you get "fired".

      The military is not just a "job" (and yes, sometimes it IS an adventure, just like the old Navy commercials used to say). You literally have the power to hurt and kill someone, including your own service members. Your words and actions in a civilian job can result in hurt feelings, bruised egos, a pink slip, or an EO lawsuit. Your words and actions in the military can literally get someone killed, and if openly disrespecting your ultimate military "boss", the President, is permitted, the chain (and unity) of command and effort – crucial to accomplishment of the mission (however that is defined) – becomes broken. Not only does mission fail, service members die.

      This is not the same as a civilian world boss with hurt feelings giving the disrespectful employee the sack. It would be a good idea to appreciate and understand what hardships military personnel have to bear to make sure the 99% of Americans won't have to.

      April 27, 2012 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. BLKvotingAmerican

    SURE they can and pay the price for doing so like your booie.

    April 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mr Dalloway

    Hate is a cancer that will eventually consume you. My advice is not to practice it.

    April 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Robrob

    UCMJ is pretty clear what you can or can't do while in military service. If you don't like it don't enlist.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tibs

    He should not have gotten in trouble for this. What did he do? Type words on a keyboard? Ohh scary stuff...

    If he actually DID something, such as refuse orders or undermine some action or whatever it may be then obviously there should be consequences. But typing words on a keyboard that say obama sucks and what not? So what? What does it matter?

    People are so incredibly weak and afraid i just cant understand it.

    April 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Williams

      Words don't matter eh? How idealistic of you. As a member of active-duty military, you can't run around bad-mouthing your boss any more than you can run around doing it of your company CEO. Same rules apply.

      April 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Williams

    You're wrong. He did sign on the dotted line. Your free speech rights are curtailed when you put on a military uniform and you take that oath. This is a well-known, long-established fact since time immemorial. You don't get to enforce the rules when you feel like it or have a double standard just because the guy in office isn't your #1 pick.

    April 26, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Adam

    In the oath of enlistment it specifically states that each soldier will obey the orders of the President of the United States. This Marine didn't just say "I'm not going to vote for Obama," he stated that he would not follow orders. That's short of sedition. You cannot have a military that does not follow orders. Doesn't matter who's President.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
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