Jesse Nieto is a 25-year Marine veteran whose honorable service to our nation included two combat tours in Vietnam. His youngest son, Marc, and 16 of Marc’s shipmates were killed on October 12, 2000, by Islamic terrorists who bombed the USS Cole. Nieto has worked as a civilian employee at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina since 1994. Since 2001, Nieto has displayed various decals on his vehicle expressing anti-terrorist sentiments, such as “Remember the Cole, 12 Oct 2000,” “Islam=Terrorism,” and “We Died, They Rejoiced.” On July 31, 2008, two military police officers (MPs) issued Nieto a ticket for displaying “offensive material.”
In mid-August, after Nieto refused to remove all “offending” decals from his vehicle, the Base Magistrate issued Nieto a written order, ordering him to remove his vehicle from the base until all decals were removed and banning his vehicle from all other federal installations. The order in effect prevented Nieto from driving his vehicle to Arlington National Cemetery (a federal installation) to visit the grave of his fallen son.
As a result of the Marine Corps’ action, the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this week filed a federal lawsuit against the Camp Lejeune Commanding Officer and the Base Magistrate on behalf of Nieto in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The civil rights lawsuit challenges the military’s ban on Nieto’s speech on the basis that it violates Nieto’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and the equal protection of the law. [Click here to read the complaint filed by the Law Center.]
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “The banning of these decals is political correctness run amuck in the military. Our troops are being killed by Islamic terrorists, 9/11 was caused by Islamic terrorists, these terrorists want to destroy America, the Islamic countries persecute Christians, and now the military is victimizing a father whose son was killed by Islamic terrorists while serving our nation.”
Continued Thompson, “I suspect the next thing the Marine command will want to do is eliminate the Marine’s Hymn since the phrase ‘to the shores of Tripoli’ celebrates the Marine victory over Islamic forces in the Barbary Coast War and the Battle of Derne.”
The lawsuit alleges that military officials have engaged in viewpoint discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment and have violated the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee by allowing some messages to be displayed but prohibiting others that they find unacceptable. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the military’s ban on “offensive” speech is impermissible because there are no objective standards guiding the decisions of government officials, thereby granting these officials unbridled discretion to determine which speech is acceptable and which speech is unacceptable.