Air Force: Free speech is not allowed on Federal installations

A U.S. Air Force logistics readiness squadron Airmen talks about her experience in the military during International Women’s Day panel at an undisclosed location within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility March 8, 2024. International women’s day is an observance celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. This year’s theme was “Women who make great achievements.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

By Jenelle Walden, 412th Test Wing Staff Judge Advocate

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Before engaging in political discussions in the workplace, proceed with caution. Though not prohibited, political discussions in the workplace can be disruptive, discourteous, and/or detract from mission accomplishment.

Federal installations and workplaces are not traditional public forums for free speech and political discussions are generally not appropriate. Under our democratic system, the military, as a group, must remain politically neutral and divorced from partisan politics.

Airmen, as individuals, enjoy the same rights and have the same responsibilities as other citizens however, the way they exercise their rights is limited in some cases.

Airmen have the right as American citizens to vote and to voice their opinions concerning political matters, but they must be careful that their personal opinions and activities are not directly, or by implication, represented as those of the DAF.

Airmen may not attempt to influence the view, position, or vote of any subordinate except to generally encourage participation in the voting process. In addition, commissioned officers shall not use contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, and other high-ranking government officials as prohibited, and punishable under Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

The Hatch Act, prohibits civilian employees from engaging in political activity while on duty, including during telework, or while in the federal workplace. The Hatch Act regulations define “political activity” as “activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office.” The Hatch Act does not prohibit employees from engaging in issue-based advocacy, such as activity in relation to an issue not specifically identified with a political party or partisan political group.

For example, speaking about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas is not political activity unless that speech also suggests domestic electoral actions or shows support for, or opposition to, domestic political parties, partisan political groups, or candidates for partisan political office. Maintaining a productive work environment, in which management and employees comply with standards of conduct and responsibilities, is essential to the effective functioning of the DAF and accomplishment of its national security mission.

Supervisors are expected to treat employees with respect and consideration and create a work environment free from harassment. Employees are expected to treat individuals with respect and consideration and adhere to the United States Air Force Core Values.

Service as an Airman, both military and civilian, in the United States Air Force is an honor and a privilege. It often requires significant sacrifice which is rewarded by the high esteem, respect, and trust which the American public affords our service and the profession of arms.

All Airmen have a sacred duty to preserve and protect this critical position within our society. Behavior that departs from those standards not only degrades public trust in the Air Force, but also puts mission accomplishment at risk.

As we approach November’s presidential election, please keep these standards in mind before engaging in any political discussions in the workplace. Such discussions can affect morale and mission accomplishment.

NOTE: This article is not a substitute for legal advice. Any specific questions, concerns, or scenarios that involve or may potentially involve political activity within the federal workplace should be discussed with your local servicing legal office. For 412 TW personnel, please contact the 412 TW/JA General Law Section at (661) 277-4310 or 412tw.JA.Workflow@us.af.mil

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