Yes, the Air Force is Teaching Its NCOs They Have No First Amendment Rights

Face Palm

In an article published here Monday, the claim was speculative. It’s now confirmed. Take a look at this screenshot from Course 15, set A, volume 2, page 9:

Course 15

As I wrote yesterday:

Airmen do not “forfeit certain freedoms like speech and expression” when they take their oaths of service. First of all, they’re not “freedoms” … which would imply government has control over whether and to what extent they are enjoyed. They’re “rights.” Individuals are entitled to them and possess them irrespective of whether anyone chooses to recognize them. No one can “forfeit” rights even if they wanted to do so.

Now, to be sure, no right is unfettered. Rights are subject to interpretation of what they mean in the real world and under varying circumstances. This often leads to balancing tests by which the interests of private individuals in free expression are weighed against social, safety, security, or other interests. When it comes to free speech, commanders are responsible for weighing the need to maximize its exercise by airmen against the need for good order and discipline.

But it is a gross — and indeed unconstitutional — misapprehension to characterize this balancing as a total forfeiture by airmen for the privilege of serving. As spelled out in many Department of Defense instructions, commanders have a duty to maximize a servicemember’s right to free expression to the maximum extent possible.

This isn’t the only problem with Course 15. In the last 48 hours, we’ve been flooded with scores of examples demonstrating an under-developed, badly written, rushed-to-market course that doesn’t come close to meeting an appropriate standard for the career development of America’s Air Force NCO corps. Senior enlisted leaders aren’t asking critical questions about the course. Instead, they’re simply jamming it down the throats of subordinates with coercive force.

But while not the only problem with the course, this is the most egregious example we’ve seen thus far. It is, standing alone, fatal to the entire course. The Air Force cannot field, using taxpayer funds, a course that teaches NCOs that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to them. This is too obvious to require elaboration.

Course 15 must be suspended immediately until it can be thoroughly reviewed, revised, and appropriately certified. If the Air Force is unwilling to voluntarily suspend the course, Congress should exercise its oversight role as required. It would be truly shameful if that were to be necessary.

We can’t, as a country, countenance a military service this confused about the meaning of civil liberties … and this committed to baking such a misunderstanding into its core workforce. Couple this with the Chief of Staff’s professed view that airmen have no expectation of privacy in their personal communications, and there is reason to be alarmed about how much (or how little) the rule of law is respected within this massive public agency … that happens to operate the most devastating and destructive weaponry on the planet.

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