When people join the military, they swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That’s the beauty of our system: there’s no loyalty oath to an individual or even to an office like a monarch or President. It’s to the Constitution.
I like the part about “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” My original idea for a title for my novel Code of Conduct was “Against All Enemies” because in my view, anyone who supported “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a domestic enemy. I have my reasons. I didn’t go with that title, though, because by the time I published it, about a half dozen authors had stolen my idea for a title.
But that was fiction so it was fine. And I never intended to publish it while I was in the Marines. Part of the reason was that I didn’t know how to publish a book back then but I also understood that Marines don’t criticize their superior officers, including the Commander-in-Chief. Remember, it was President Clinton who passed “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Even when the Navy Times published my column, pseudonymously, in 1997 criticizing “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” I was careful not to criticize the President, as much as I wanted to. Members of the armed forces don’t get to do that. It’s one of the many rights people surrender when they join the military.
I love how conservatives are just now discovering this situation. A case that has caught my attention involves hypocrisy on an infuriating level. On April 13th, a federal judge denied a request to block military discharge proceedings against a Camp Pendleton Marine who called President Barack Obama an enemy on Facebook.
Let’s say that in 2003, there was a Marine who believed that going to war under false pretenses like, oh I don’t know, allegations about weapons of mass destruction and made-up assertions about a connection to 9/11, was a violation of the Constitution he was sworn to protect. Now, assume Facebook existed then and that this hypothetical Marine had used it to create a page advocating service members disobey President Bush’s order to go to war. Conservatives would have been screaming treason, calling for this Marine’s head!
Now, however, they don’t like the Commander-in-Chief, they have suddenly discovered that service members don’t necessarily have all the same rights as civilians. Even Bob Jones University has jumped into the fray, posting on their website an article titled “Military Members Should Be Able To Exercise Free Political Speech.”
“Military members can’t have the liberty to say whatever they please. They can’t divulge anything that would compromise the security of the United States or the success of its Armed Forces. As with anybody with access to confidential information, they have limitations on what they can communicate.
But that does not mean their rights as citizens should be revoked. If anything, those rights should be exercised and enjoyed more fully by those who are giving of themselves to protect them.”
Guess what, Bob Jones. Some of us have been dealing with the issue of free speech among service members for a long time. In fact, Stanford University (an actual institution of higher learning) had compiled a database of real court decisions where the parties have spent decades hashing out this issue.
Recently the Bob Jones University Chancellor joked in chapel that he wished President Obama could hear a lecture by some so-called Constitutional Law experts who happened to be visiting his campus that day. It’s typical of Dr. Bob Jones III to assume that he understands things better than he does, never mind that President Obama is a constitutional law scholar and lecturer at Univ. of Chicago, with a JD from Harvard, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review, and Bob Jones has a PhD from his Grandpaw’s unaccredited school. So it’s not surprising that the BJU student newspaper would solve this complicated and nuanced political and constitutional issue in two simple conclusory paragraphs. But they’re wrong. And hypocritical. Where was Bob Jones’ support when we were arguing throughout the eighties and nineties that OUR free speech rights were being abridged as LGBT service members? That’s right, he was exercising his First Amendment right, calling for homosexuals to be stoned to death while my gay service members and I were serving in silence, protecting his right to do so.
(Thanks to Phil Lehman for directing me to the BJU website on this issue)