Marine sergeant who slammed Obama will 'keep fighting'
A sergeant who made "contemptuous" comments about President Obama will "keep fighting" after a Marine Corps board late Thursday recommended he be booted from the service.
"We're disappointed but we're going to keep fighting for this Marine," said Mark Brewer, one of Sgt. Gary Stein's civilian lawyers.
Stein has a group of civilian lawyers, including from the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative United States Justice Foundation, two groups that are often at legal odds. Both believe that Stein is being treated unfairly and that his 1st Amendment rights are being violated.
A lawsuit on his behalf has been filed in San Diego federal court.
Stein, who left a variety of anti-Obama comments on Facebook, was stoic when the three-member Administrative Separation Board announced its decision about 11 p.m. after an all-day hearing.
The board recommended that he be discharged and given an other-than-honorable discharge, which will make him ineligible for veterans' benefits.
The final decision on Stein's status will be made by the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
Stein, 26, a nine-year veteran of the Corps, had no comment after the board announced its decision following 40 minutes of deliberation.
During the hearing, Marine lawyers urged that Stein be kicked out of the service for comments about Obama that are "prejudicial to good order and discipline."
Stein posted comments on Facebook, including on a page he created called Armed Forces Tea Party, calling Obama a coward and "the economic and religious enemy." Stein urged the president's defeat in this year's election, writing "screw Obama."
"This is what he's putting out to the public, and he's a sergeant of Marines, on active duty," said Capt. John Torresala, representing Stein's commander. "How can this not be prejudicial to good order and discipline?"
But military and civilian lawyers for Stein said that because his comments were made off-duty, not in his capacity as a Marine, they are protected by the 1st Amendment.
Marine rules about political expression are vague and sometimes contradictory, they argued.
Capt. James Baehr, calling the Stein case the most important of the hundreds he has handled, said that restricting Marines from engaging in political speech makes them less than first-class citizens. "How can we expect Marines to participate in citizenship if they cannot join political discussions?" he told the board.
Stein's civilian attorneys plan to confer Friday to decide future legal strategies on his behalf. The board's action was unanimous.
Baehr had asked the board to allow Stein to finish his enlistment, set to end in late July. But that request was denied.
-- Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton
Photo: Sgt. Gary Stein. Credit: Associated Press.