The nation’s highest military appeals court has upheld the court-martial conviction of a Missouri man whose racist-sounding diatribe against President Barack Obama raised tough free-speech questions.
The former soldier, who at one point claimed to have connections to Missouri’s Ku Klux Klan, forced a closely divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to clarify the law governing speech by members of the military. Soldiers, in sum, face more restrictions than civilians do.
“The right of free speech in the armed services is not unlimited and must be brought into balance with the paramount consideration of providing an effective fighting force for the defense of our country,” Judge Kevin A. Ohlson noted.
In its 3-2 decision released Friday, the military appeals court rejected defense arguments that the First Amendment protected Eric L. Rapert, of Sikeston, in southeastern Missouri, when he railed against Obama on the night of the 2012 election.
In ruling against Rapert, the court also distinguished the Uniform Code of Military Justice from federal law, whose ambiguities prompted the Supreme Court in 2015 to dismiss the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who’d posted threatening-sounding statements on his Facebook page. The military court found that the military justice code already required a determination of Rapert’s state of mind, something the U.S. Supreme Court said was lacking in the Pennsylvania case, where the defendant argued his postings were fictitious. (Read more from “Missouri Soldier’s Conviction for Obama Comments Is Upheld” HERE)