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US Marine to argue free speech case at hearing
CAMP PENDLETON, California (AP) ' A Marine facing dismissal for running a Facebook page criticizing the Obama administration is now backed by a team of lawyers and federal lawmakers as he fights to stay in the military and test its policy of limiting the free speech of service members.
Sgt. Gary Stein will appear before a military board at Camp Pendleton near San Diego on Thursday to argue his case.
The 26-year-old Marine has been rallying for support since he was notified last month that the military was moving to discharge him after determining he was in violation of the Pentagon policy barring service members from engaging in political activities.
Stein's lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union say his views are protected by constitutional guarantees of free speech.
The nine-year member of the Marine Corps says he started a Facebook page called Armed Forces Tea Party to encourage fellow service members to exercise their free speech rights.
The Marine Corps has said that it decided to take administrative action after Stein declared on Facebook that he would not follow unlawful orders from Obama.
Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, a former Marine, wrote a letter to Stein's commanding officer stating the sergeant should not face dismissal for an opinion shared by "a majority of Marines."
Stein said his statement about Obama was part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan. In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if those orders included detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights.
The military has had a policy since the Civil War limiting the free speech of service members, including criticizing the commander in chief. Military law experts have said he may have crossed the line.
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