Marines Under Fire for Ordering Removal of Contractor’s Anti-Islam Bumper Stickers

bumpersticker2zm0Jesse 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.

13 thoughts on “Marines Under Fire for Ordering Removal of Contractor’s Anti-Islam Bumper Stickers”

  1. Listen up Fundamentalism has exclusively to blaim the fact is that you cannot negate these actons? If you are integrated it is your right to speak out!

  2. PJ:

    “If Muslims object, let them return to their shangri-la of sharia, such as Syria, Iran or a quant little oasis in the Sahara Desert.
    They wish to come over to a Western civilization, they should leave their unwelcomed customs behind.”

    Tell me PJ are you even now listening to the sonorous words of Merle Haggard as he sings “..if you don’t love it ,leave it.” Jingoism like this is embarrassing and bumper sticker philosophers have the most to be embarrassed about. Condemning the entire group for the actions of a few may have popular appeal in some pin-headed (or should I say skin-headed) circles, but it places you squarely in the camp of other such “sophisticated” thinkers as the Hitler, Himler and Pol Pot. And your keep-your-“fur-en”-customs-to- yourself philosophy points you up as one of the anti-immigration bigots like Lou Dobbs or Pat Buchanan. Quite a flock you fly with!

  3. I have one complaint about Mr.Nieto’s use of bumper stickers to express his dislike of Muslims: That is not sharing with us the source of the stickers.
    I would like to acquire some of those stickers.
    If Muslims object, let them return to their shangri-la of sharia, such as Syria, Iran or a quant little oasis in the Sahara Desert.
    They wish to come over to a Western civilization, they should leave their unwelcomed customs behind.

  4. Good point Gyges. I can’t argue with you on that one. However, if there is going to be freedom of speech for one class of citizens, then it should be equal for all.

    The military can’t pick and choose which topic is going to be allowed, or banned. They should require all the stickers to be removed from vehicles that enter the bases. There can’t be a double-standard.

  5. Shark,

    We have examples of how this country reacts when Christians engages in Terrorism. Remember the Oklahoma City Bombing? What about when abortion clinics are bombed? The country reacts the way I wish it reacted to Islamic terrorists, it doesn’t assume that the lunatic fringe is representative of the whole.

  6. I worked at Robins AFB and researched that case you quoted. I’m also keeping up with what happens in the Islam bumper sticker case.

    What I don’t understand is why he’s not allowed to display his freedom to speak out against what happened to USS Cole. All across Robins AFB, images were posed up on our bulletins, in our cubicles, and in other areas about the USS Cole event that displayed the face of a certain person involved.

    Why can’t people be free to speak? If the bases themselves are posting up “wanted” posters of these people, and warning people, then why can’t contractors and military personnel speak out?

    I also don’t understand why Christianity is taboo on military bases, yet, the military allows Muslim mosques. Christian chaplains are told not to pray in Jesus name, yet, Islam is protected.

    Where is the ACLU screaming “separation of church and state” when it comes to the other religions? Why only go after the Christians?

    Perhaps this is a test case. He’s the first to be “processed” for his freedom of speech. Maybe the anti-Christian stickers will be removed too, as a result?

    Or is it just anti-Christ freedom of speech that’s allowed? If it were Christians who did that to the USS Cole, or Trade Towers, you can guess this would not be an issue in court. The media would eat it up and promote bumper stickers.

    Welcome to the new America. Check in your freedom of religion because Islam is in Congress and it will be protected…and forced?

  7. Jill,
    that is an interesting take on the contractor killings. The contractors should be held to the same standard as the military personnel in country. It is a tough job to try to allow free speech and at the same time maintain some order on military installations. However, I am not sure that bumper stickers are a threat to the order on a military base. It seems from the story that some stickers were OK, while others not ok. The military command does not seem to enforce the bumper sticker ban in a uniform and fair manner. I am not sure why a sticker denouncng Bush or any president should be outlawed. Political speech should be protected at all costs. The hate speech cmments and stickers are ugly and do not belong anywhere, but I do not see how you can stop them and still have a First Amendment right.

  8. This case is interesting from another angle. The military has refused to punish civilian contractors for killing civilians in Iraq because they claim they have no jurisdiction over contractors, who supposedly, are to be subject to civilian laws of the U.S.–NOT. I would be interested if the ruling against Mr. Neito could be a basis to make contractors subject to military sanctions for killing civilians (in addition to things such as poisoning the water of our troops in Iraq).

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