Are Military Members Afforded Free Speech?

April 15, 2010

The internet is abuzz with the story of a Marine in California who was recently asked to remove a Facebook group he created. Many people feel that the Marine’s First Amendment rights are being violated, and are even going so far as to claim that the Obama administration is attempting to silence the opposition.

You can read the articles as covered by Yahoo! and Fox News.

As a Marine currently serving in the Reserves, and active in local politics, this issue raised huge flags for me. I have authored several blogs promoting Republican candidates, am a member of the Republican Party, and have sponsored a Teenage Republican Chapter in my hometown. I have also expressed disagreement and outrage with the current administration. Could I be a potential violator of this directive?

In order to cover my six, I have researched the directive, how it applies to me, and how it applies to this case. DOD Directive 1344.10, dated February 19, 2008 Subject: Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces, details what actions individual members of the Armed Forces CAN, and CANNOT engage in. You can read the directive HERE.

Sgt Stein made the mistake of naming the group “Armed Forces Tea Party Patriots.” By naming it so, he implies that the DOD sanctions it. By the rules, they have him dead to rights. In fact, if they so chose, he could be punished subject to the Universal Code of Military Justice under Article 92, “Failure to Obey Order or Regulation,” Chapter 47 of Reference (b).

Now, had he created a group called “Gary Stein and the Tea Party Patriots” or some such, and included a disclaimer that it reflects his opinions, and is not intended to reflect the views of the DOD, he would have been good to go, in my opinion.

We do indeed, have freedom of speech. We just have to be a but more cautious of how we wield it. You can find many a blog on my website that criticizes the current administration. However, I do have the disclaimer that the views portrayed are my own, and are not made as a representative of the USMC, the DOD, or any other agency. They are my beliefs, and mine alone.

When I attend political functions, campaign for a candidate, or work with the community, I do not do so in uniform. I won’t even wear a Marine sweatshirt. While my military service is often mentioned, I stress that I act in the capacity of a concerned citizen, NOT as a representative of the USMC.

I think I’m covered, but if the DOD or my chain of command wants to bring the matter up, I’m willing to defend my position. I would never want to use my uniform to gain political advantage. To do so would be, in my eyes, a discredit to all who have served before me.

I do, however, have a responsibility as a US citizen to be engaged in the political process. The leaders we elect have the power to make decisions that affect the lives of all of us. Those of us in the military are especially affected by the decisions of the POTUS. To sit back and not be involved seems a gross dereliction of my duty as a citizen, and as an NCO. I encourage everyone to get involved, regardless of their political party allegiance.

In closing, I’m glad this matter was brought up. Having read the Directive, I feel that I am acting completely within the guidelines of what the Secretary of Defense has laid out. I would encourage Sgt. Stein to continue to be involved in politics, and make his voice heard. I would just encourage him to do it within the rules laid out before us, and to do so in good taste.

In this case, I have to defend the actions of the Marine’s command. They made the right call, and handled the matter well. Sgt Stein was not punished, and only asked to remove the group from Facebook.

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One Response to “Are Military Members Afforded Free Speech?”


  1. This is a very informative post, Tim. Thanks.


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