E-9 Attempts to Restrict Protected Speech


Chief Master Sergeant Donald W. Stroud had the following email sent to the masses of the 388th Fighter Wing earlier this week on his behalf. Yes, it was so important he didn’t do it himself.

Have a look.


Take a moment to let the irony of quoting Patrick Henry in a message seeking to smother individual liberty wash over you. Once your vertigo subsides, consider a few thoughts.

This is an unlawful order. There is no legal basis for the authority it attempts to exert. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects free expression, and airmen are citizens entitled to that protection. Neither E-9s nor O-10s possess the authority to override the Constitution. Nor does even the Commander-In-Chief.

Military members do have free speech limits imposed on them in a few important ways, mainly based on context. For example, the UCMJ makes it punishable for officers or enlisted airmen to use contemptuous words against the President or members of Congress. Airmen are also restricted by law from using speech to disrespect a superior, to engage in willful disobedience, or to engage in conduct contrary to good order and discipline. This latter constraint is often stretched and twisted by officials to limit acceptable individuality on false premises.

But there is no law, rule, or order that can prevent a citizen from expressing approval or disapproval of an elected official’s policies or performance or punish a citizen for doing so. The Hatch Act and its progeny are designed to prevent the federal government from falling into the grip of partisan politics, but this does not equate to a blanket restriction on expressing political opinions.

The Air Force’s mind-numbing explanations over the past year to the contrary, Airmen are clear of the Hatch Act so long as they follow two simple rules: no political activity while on the job, and no campaigning while off the job. This is what the law actually restricts. There is no legal basis for anything more restrictive, and therefore no foundation for a lawful order such as the one attempted in this bungling email.

In further irony, the email actually comes closer to breaking the rules than the conduct it wrongly attempts to restrict. E-9 Stroud says it’s acceptable to congratulate President Obama, but implies it’s unacceptable to make a similar comment about the President Elect. This could be perceived by his audience as expressing a partisan preference for Obama’s policies, which would be considered engaging in political activity while on duty. This would violate the Hatch Act.

I don’t know Stroud. He may be a perfectly reasonable guy and a nice person. But this email makes him look like a clueless horse’s ass. It’s misguided, paternalistic, and bubbling with condescension. It’s also just flat wrong. It should be ignored. My guess is that aside from this post, it will be.

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