Anti-Islam Decals "O.K." on Base?
U.S. Federal Judge Says "Yes"
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Camp Lejeune officials violated the rights of a military veteran who came to his job on base in a vehicle emblazoned with anti-Islamic decals,
a federal judge ruled.
Jesse Nieto's stickers included one that said "ISLAM (equals) TERRORISM" and another with a threat to defecate on the Quran. He also had a decal to commemorate the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
"His vehicle is a way to express his mourning and anger," said Nieto's attorney, Robert Muise. Nieto suffers from his son's death which occured while he was on the USS Cole. He has been driving a different vehicle to his on-base job since the summer of 2008, but Muise said he plans to return with his decals next week. He has worked at Lejeune since 1994 and previously served 25 years in the Marine Corps, including two combat tours as an infantryman in Vietnam.
U.S. District Judge Malcolm J. Howard said in a ruling posted Wednesday that a Lejeune regulation targeting inflammatory speech on base was improperly applied to Nieto's decals and not to pro-Islamic messages that may be just as incendiary. Howard concluded that the application of the rule violated Nieto's free speech.
"While military officials are entitled to great deference in restricting speech to further the military's needs, they may not do so in a manner that discriminates against a particular point of view," Howard wrote in his decision.
Nieto did not seek monetary damages in his lawsuit.
Maj. Nat Fahy, a spokesman for Camp Lejeune, said the ruling doesn't prevent the base from ensuring order and discipline. He said it was difficult to maintain an acceptable climate while balancing First Amendment rights.
"In the aftermath of this case, we expect to continue to deal with the occasional friction that occurs when 'free speech' begins to impede good order and discipline," he said.
One of Nieto's decals showed a picture of the cartoon character Calvin urinating on an illustration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Another declared, "WE DIED, THEY REJOICED." Another said "Disgrace My Countries Flag And I will (defecate) On Your Quran."
A few of the stickers were removed after a traffic court hearing in 2008. He then added another decal with a line striking through the Islamic crescent moon and start, with the words "No Quarter" and "Islamic Terrorist" on it. Nieto was then ordered to remove all of his decals, but he refused.
Camp Lejeune's rules say that vehicles cannot display messages of "extremist, indecent, sexist or racist" nature. Muise said the base was picking and choosing which messages to restrict.