ARLINGTON, Va. — After his son was killed in the attack on the USS Cole, Jesse Nieto put decals on his car that included “Islam=Terrorism” and “We Died, They Rejoiced.”
But the Marine Corps deemed the decals offensive and told them he had to remove them or he could not park on federal installations.
So he went to court, and won.
Nieto works at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, which bans “extremist, indecent, sexist and racist” decals, court records say.
But a federal judge ruled Wednesday that the base cannot ban anti-Islamic decals while allowing decals that say “Islam is Love” or “Islam is Peace.”
“While the military may have greater leeway in restricting offensive material in furtherance of securing order and discipline among its troops, it may not do so in a manner that allows ‘one message while prohibiting the messages of those who can reasonably be expected to respond,’” wrote Senior U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard.
Nieto called the ruling a “victory for freedom of speech.”
After his son was killed, Nieto put decals on his car including one that said “Remember the Cole” and another with the Gold Star banner, but he was also outraged by Arab reaction to the Cole attack and the Sept. 11 attacks.
“It wasn’t trying to be dirty or nasty or uncouth,” he said. “I was just trying to explain and that’s how I felt.”
After base officials received a complaint about the decals in 2008, Nieto agreed to remove some of them including one showing the cartoon character Calvin urinating on Muhammad’s head, records say.
But he later added another one with an Islamic crescent and moon crossed out with the words “No Quarter” above and “Islamic Terrorist” below, records say. When he refused to take it off, he was banned from parking on Lejeune or any other federal installation until he removed all of his decals.
He took that to mean that his decals honoring his son and the Cole also had to go.
Nieto will now be allowed to park at Camp Lejeune, but the underlying ban on racist and extremist decals stands, said base spokesman Maj. Nat Fahy.
“The ruling in no way limits or precludes the base commander from ensuring the maintenance of good order and discipline aboard the base,” he said.
Fahy could not say what base officials will do the next time someone displays decals deemed offensive.
“That’s an issue that we are looking into,” he said.