Jesse Nieto is a veteran who served 25 years in the Marine Corps, including two combat tours as an infantryman in Vietnam. He is also the father of a sailor killed in the 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole. The contractor at the base at Camp Lejeune is now suing the Marines after he was told to remove offensive bumper stickers — an act that he claims violated his free speech rights to trash talk Islam.
Nieto’s expression of anti-Islamic views began months after his youngest son, Marc, was killed in a suicide-bomb attack on the Cole in Yemen. He began to put decals and bumper stickers saying such things as “ISLAM TERRORISM” and a red line superimposed on the Islamic star and crescent with the words “WE DIED, THEY REJOICED.”
He was told in July that the bumper stickers had to go or he had to go. He was given tickets but failed to yield to the pressure. Then in August, Lt. Col. James Hessen, the base’s traffic court officer, ordered Nieto to peel off the anti-Islam decals, which he did. Two weeks later, Hessen ordered Nieto to remove the rest of his decals, including one that said “REMEMBER THE COLE, 12 Oct. 2000,” the lawsuit states. Nieto refused. It is unclear why “Remember the Cole” would be offensive.
Hessen also barring Nieto from driving his vehicle onto any military installation, including Arlington National Cemetery, where Nieto’s son is buried.
This is not a new issue. Previous military personnel and employees have sued for being forced to remove bumper stickers. The courts have given base commanders wide deference in imposing such standards. In the 1995 ruling in Ethredge v. Hail, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that officials at Georgia’s Robins Air Force Base could prohibit “bumper stickers or other similar paraphernalia” that could “embarrass or disparage” the commander in chief. Jesse Ethredge, a civilian aircraft mechanic challenged the order that he had to remove his anti-Reagan and anti-Bush bumper stickers that read “HELL WITH REAGAN” and “READ MY LIPS HELL WITH GEO BUSH.” The court found that such bumper stickers “would undermine military order, discipline, and responsiveness.”
The standing order prohibits car owners from displaying “extremist, indecent, sexists, or racist messages.” That is pretty broad and ambiguous — allowing selective enforcement and considerable bias.
Notably, on page seven of the complaint below, the attorneys for Neito record how the parking lot is filled with bumper stickers that contain Confederate Flags (with “IF THIS OFFENDS YOU . . . YOU NEED A HISTORY LESSON”) and stickers mocking Christianity.
Some of Neito’s missives were clearly offensive, such as “Islam = Terrorism” and “Disgrace My Countries Flag. And I will SHIT On Your Quran.” Those type of statements make this a more difficult case and would insult any religious person — Muslim or non-Muslim. If there were no restrictions on such statements, an employee could cover his van with KKK and racist diatribes. This presents a tough balancing between the interests of the individual and the government.
The secret service has visited people over their Anti-Bush bumper stickers.
The removal of the Cole bumper sticker and the denial of entry into Arlington Cemetery are the most problematic here. [Notably, from these photos he appears to have a Cole license plate. As usual, I tend to side with the first amendment in such conflicts. It is not clear to me that bumper stickers truly represent a threat to good order and discipline on military bases.
For the complaint, click here.
For the full story, click here.