Right to political process has a few limitations

  • Published
  • By Maj. Dale Riedel
  • 452 AMW/JA

The Hatch Amendment and DoD directive set the parameters of political involvement for military members and federal civilian employees.

Political season is in full swing and this year's presidential election is clearly replete with importance. Such elections are frequently coupled with strong emotional connections to one particular issue, candidate, or party. 

Our freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution includes political speech. However, political speech by members of the executive branch is subject to certain limitations. Therefore, time is ripe for stressing the existence of the rules regarding political activity by federal employees, both military and civilian. The rules can be found in the Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. §§7321-7326) and Department of Defense Directive (DoDD) 1344.10, "Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces." 

Further guidance is available at www.osc.gov/ha_fed.htm

Federal civilian employees have the right to participate or to refrain from participating in the political process fully, freely, and without fear of penalty or reprisal. However, federal civilian employees may not: 1) use official authority or influence to interfere with an election; 2) solicit or discourage political activity of anyone doing business with the agency; or 3) solicit or receive political contributions. 

Additionally, federal civilian employees may not engage in political activity while on duty, in a government office, in an official uniform, or using a government vehicle. Partisan political buttons may not be worn on duty. 

One issue that frequently arises involves the use of government e-mail systems to transmit political messages. This is never permitted. In fact, if a federal civilian employee sends any political message via government e-mail, that employee MUST be removed from employment. 

For members of the Armed Forces failure to follow the limitations in the Directive could result in punishment under Article 92, Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

Active-duty personnel may not: 1) participate in fundraising activities, rallies, or conventions; 2) use official authority to interfere with the election; 3) solicit votes or contributions for a particular candidate or issue; 4) speak before partisan political gatherings; or 5) work on a partisan political campaign or committee during, before, or after an election. 

Basically, active-duty personnel can register to vote, vote, encourage others to exercise their right to vote, display a political bumper sticker on a vehicle, make lawful monetary contributions to a political organization or party, and attend but not participate in political activities so long as it is done "as a spectator when not in uniform." 

For members of the Armed Forces not on active duty and not otherwise restricted in their political activity (i.e., they are not federal civilian employees), the limitations are essentially lifted provided "the member is not in uniform and does not otherwise act in a manner that could reasonably give rise to the inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement." This political freedom of expression of course applies when not on military orders and while off military property. 

In summary, active-duty military personnel are subject to the Hatch Act limitations as well as the DoD Directive and may be subject to criminal prosecution for any violations. 

Reserve military personnel with no other affiliation with the federal government may engage in political activity subject to the uniform and appearance limitation identified in the DoD Directive. 

Federal civilian personnel are subject to the Hatch Act limitations and must be removed from employment for certain violations.