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Judge says anti-Islam decals wrongly banned

Associated Press / April 2, 2010

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RALEIGH, N.C. — 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 after his son died in a terrorist bombing, a federal judge ruled.

Jesse Nieto’s youngest son died in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

“His vehicle is a way to express his mourning and anger,’’ said Nieto’s lawyer, Robert Muise. Nieto 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.

US 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,’’ he wrote in his decision.

Nieto did not seek monetary damages in his lawsuit. Camp Lejeune officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Camp Lejeune’s rules say that vehicles cannot display messages of “extremist, indecent, sexist, or racist’’ nature.