With the start of the U.S. presidential election season upon the nation, the Air Force usually takes this time to remind its Airmen about what political activities are permissible for military members and federal civilian employees alike.
While there may be guidelines that outline what constitutes a prohibited political activity, Air Force leaders along with DOD leaders support each person’s participation in the democratic process. In order to clarify what is and isn’t allowed, the Base Legal Office has provided some feedback on this subject in the following question and answer session:
Â What guidance outlines what military members can and cannot participate in during this election cycle?
Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force, 12 Nov 2010.
Members generally may vote, encourage others to vote, join political clubs or attend meetings (while not in uniform) and attend other political events, including fundraisers, when not in uniform and no inference of official sponsorship can be drawn. Members may also make monetary contributions to a political organization favoring a particular candidate, display a political bumper sticker on a privately owned vehicle, and wear a button or t-shirt when not in uniform and not performing military duties.
Members generally may not participate in partisan political events as more than a spectator, they may not solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, serve in an official capacity or sponsor a political club, speak in front of a partisan political gathering or solicit funds for partisan political fundraising. Members may not display large political signs, posters or banners on their cars or residences (bumper sticker exception), sell tickets for partisan political dinners or fundraising events, participate in uniform during marches, rallies or public demonstrations and lastly they may not use contemptuous words against the President or other high officials.
Â Why is it important military members know the rules regulating their involvement in political activities?
They can be subject to disciplinary actions including discharge for violating them. Consider Marine Corps Sergeant Gary Stein who has been discharged with an other-than-honorable service characterization for posting disparaging comments about President Barack Obama on Facebook.
Â Who is subject to these guidelines? Is it only military, civil service, etc?
There are separate guidelines for active duty military and federal civilian employees. Additionally, civilians are further limited in their freedom of expression on military installations. The Hatch Act of 1939 applies to federal civilian employees, and employees also are subject to widely published DOD guidance that discusses participation in political campaigns and elections.
Generally, the commander of a military installation may restrict freedom of expression if it prevents a clear and present danger to the orderly accomplishment of the mission or to the morale, discipline or loyalty.
Is there a website Edwards personnel can go to inquire more about this?
AFI 51-902 is the best resource. There is an additional instruction, AFI 51-903, on dissident and protest activities as well.
For more information, please contact the Base Legal Office at (661) 277-4310. Legal assistance attorneys are available 10-11 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 3-4 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday. Paralegals can provide power of attorney and notary services 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Friday.
For more information, please contact the Base Legal Office at (661) 277-4310. Legal assistance attorneys are available 10 to 11 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 3 to 4 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday. Paralegals can provide power of attorney and notary services 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday.
Editor’s note: Information courtesy of 1st Lt. Thomas Colby, Chief of Legal Assistance.