I come from a long line of veterans serving during wartime. My husband is active-duty military and we are part of the economic draft. My husband was active duty before we married; I refused to marry him while he was in the military. We enjoyed our college years, settled down, started a family, and we were so happy to have 401Ks. Then it happened; the Great Recession.
My husband was laid off, there were talks to outsource or computerize my job, and we were pregnant with baby number three. He joined up.
After he re-enlisted I kept my political identity and activism without questioning “can I do this?”
When my husband came down on overseas orders, I was excited about our new adventure. When it was announced “Trump won,” for the first time in my life I began to question “is it okay that I am an open progressive,” “can I still use my voice,” and “what can’t I do while being overseas?” I was scared to be a liberal.
To calm my fears I started to research laws and military regulations regarding speech. I would like to thank you for letting me share my story and would like to share with you some information I have found to be useful when it comes to our First Amendment rights.
The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
What Military Service Members and Families Need to Know Before Participating in Politics
Your sponsor is a servicemember:
Sometimes incorrect information is circulated within the military community. Some servicemembers and dependents believe once someone is married to a servicemember that individual gives up their First Amendment rights. This is NOT true. A dependent never forgoes his/her right to free speech while on United States soil.
- If a dependent is on orders for an overseas tour-of-duty, the dependent must respect the host nation’s laws and refrain from protesting, from signing local petitions, and from other political activity within the host nation. A dependent can still call, write letters, and use social media and networks in regards to issues back home with elected representatives, friends, organizations, and candidates running for office.
- If a dependent lives on post, it is always a good idea to check with housing in regards to the rules they have for placing signs and political flags in the yard.
A servicemember must:
Servicemembers do not give up their constitutional rights. There are minimal restrictions a servicemember should be aware of before exercising his/her rights.
- A servicemember has the right to read ANYTHING they want. The servicemember is limited to distribution. Servicemember cannot pass out literature without prior approval on post; best not to have multiple copies of literature on post.
- A servicemember is restricted from joining certain groups. A servicemember cannot join a group that discriminates against gender, race, and creed.
- A servicemember cannot be a part of a group that advocates violence or force.
- A servicemember may take part in peaceful demonstrations off-post, on U.S. soil, out of uniform, and not on duty.
- A servicemember (as well as a dependent) must honor all SOFA agreement while overseas.
- A servicemember can say and think what he/she wants to up to a point. A servicemember cannot advocate violence or advocate for military regulations to be violated.
- A servicemember cannot communicate with a person, group, or country that the United States views as an enemy.
- A servicemember should get prior approval before talking to the media. The servicemember may send in opinion letters to newspapers. Make sure the letters are not of an organization without prior approval.
- When it doubt ask an attorney. Every servicemember should have access to the Judge Advocate General’s office on post.
You are an extended family member:
Extend family members want to show respect for their loved ones and all servicemembers. Sometimes this brings up questions of how one should go about exercising their First Amendment rights in a respectful way.
- If visiting a family member on post it is important to follow the post rules and regulations.
- When attending activities such as FRG meetings welcome home, and farewell events, be respectful of everyone else attending the event. Typically politics are not discussed at such events.
- Extended family members have the same rights as all Americans.
Rule of Thumb:
It is best to always be respectful and always remain nonviolent. When in doubt, especially when it comes to organized protest, ask the Judge Advocate General’s office. Feel free to ask for any guidelines in writing.
When it comes to military lifestyle, especially with conversations and social media, treat members of the military community like your family during the holiday season. Sometimes it is best not to talk about certain topics in their company.
Remember you always have the right to the following: voting, contacting your elected representatives, and literature.
There are deep divisions within our country that threaten our democracy and core values as Americans. This past contentious election showed us the hate and division within towns, states, and personal relationships. In the words of President Abraham Lincoln from a speech given in Bloomington, IL 1856 known as the lost speech “Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable!” We as progressives must stand strong holding firm to our beliefs and our knowledge of what our country is suppose to be.
Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable!