Rights, Sorta Rights, and Not Rights

I have always kept Signal-Chief apolitical for several reasons. For one, up until now, I’ve been a commissioned officer and had to live with the restrictions that meant (more below). Second, it seems like there are few things in life (especially lately) that are more polarizing than politics. I am going to do my best to keep with that tradition in this post.

As much as people love to say, “We are a free country”, that is not true, nor has it ever been. In a truly “free” country, I could do whatever I want, and so could you. America, ever since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, has had rules, and laws in place. Those laws have, to at least a certain point, limited our freedom to do whatever we wanted. 

In all honesty, the only true freedoms we have are enumerated in the 27 amendments to the Constitution. And out of those, several have nothing to do with freedoms (take the 25th that deals with the succession of the president), and the Supreme Court has placed left and right limits on most of the others (i.e. yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater is against the law despite the freedom of speech in the 1st amendment).

This is true for the vast majority of the ~329.9 million people who the census says live in the US, except for the 4.3 million people (1.3% of the population) who currently work for part of the federal government. For those people, and more specifically for the 1.4 million active-duty military, our rights are further restricted under federal law and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

So, let me get to the point of what this is all about. In case you haven’t heard, in 107 days, there is a small election that no matter what you believe in or who you plan on voting for, will have a direct impact on a variety of elements of your life for the next 2-6 years. The United States is a representative republic, and Nov 3 is your chance to say who those representatives will be. These are the people who make your laws, enforce your laws, and in some jurisdictions interpret these laws. These are the people who will guide our economy, respond to COVID-19, and ultimately one of two people who will be solely responsible for if you got to war or not.

So, let me take this back to our rights, and specifically the rights of those 1.3 million military. 

I think we all know (I hope we do) that we have the right to vote for whoever we want (apparently this year Kanye West may be one of those people). But before selecting a name, there is a long campaign process where our rights not only as federal employees but also military are restricted compared to the public. As a member of the federal government, both military and civilians fall under 5 U.S.C. § 7323, also known as the Hatch Act. As a member of the military, our rights are further restricted based on DOD Directive 1344.10.  

Now for a variety of reasons (primarily because I am not a lawyer), I will not tell you exactly what you are and are not allowed to do when it comes to partisan politics. I would encourage you to check the Office of the Special Counsel’s site about the Hatch Act if you are a civilian, and DODD 1344.10, as well as this recent press release by the Pentagon about what is/isn’t allowed if you wear a uniform. But let me briefly say just a few things that you absolutely can and cannot do.

You CAN:

  • Register to vote, and vote for the candidate of your choice (and should).
  • Encourage others to vote
  • Sign a petition
  • Make a monetary contribution to a candidate


  • Participate in any patrician political activities while in uniform (You are ok to go to a polling location in uniform)
  • Represent a patrician view in a way that would give the appearance of the Service or DOD’s endorsement

There are several other things, but it gets murky at best so I will leave that to you.

I plan on posting a few more things about the upcoming elections soon. As I said, I of course have my own political feelings, but I do not want to express them here. I am much more interested in making sure each person in uniform exercises their right to select their representatives. Honest to God, I do not care who you choose but if you don’t participate, you have very little room to bitch when you don’t like something in the future.

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