The U.S. Marine Corps has begun disciplinary action against a Marine sergeant for comments he posted on Facebook saying he would refuse to follow orders of President Barack Obama.
Major Michael Armistead, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego, said on Wednesday the corps was taking action against Sergeant Gary Stein over allegations he "posted political statements about the president of the United States on his Facebook web page 'Armed Forces Tea Party.'"
The comment in question has since been removed from the page, and Stein, 26, told the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper he could not remember it precisely.
However, he said it was part of a debate about punishment faced by NATO and U.S. personnel over burning copies of the Koran in Afghanistan last month and paraphrased himself as stating: "I say screw Obama. I will not follow orders given by him to me."
Stein said he later clarified online that he meant he would not follow "unlawful orders" from the president, the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces.
Stein, a weather forecaster assigned to Camp Pendleton near San Diego, cast the Marines' reaction to his comments as an infringement on his freedom of speech.
He defended his right to express personal political opinions when he is off-duty and out of uniform.
"There is not a document in this world that trumps the United States Constitution," the paper quoted him as saying.
U.S. Defense Department rules allow military personnel to express political opinions as long as they are not doing so as representatives of the armed services.
Stein told the newspaper the Marines had accused him of making statements about the president "prejudicial to good order and discipline," and were taking steps to discharge him.
He did not immediately return phone calls to Reuters seeking comment. Armistead declined to comment further.
The American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego defended Stein for criticizing Obama's national healthcare plan in 2010.
According to its website, it wrote to his commanding officer saying it strongly backed the constitutional right of military personnel to discuss and critique the government's policies and conduct.
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