Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty
As military members, our actions are governed by lawful Regulations, Directive and Instructions.
Specifically, DoD Directive (DoDD) 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty, provides detailed guidance for active duty service members. All military officers as leaders should familiarize themselves with this issuance. The Directive’s guidance is not limited to the election process and includes rallies, interviews, speeches and other similar events. Also DoD Instruction (DoDI) 1325.06, Handling of Dissident and Protest Activities, outlines how service members should conduct themselves in exercising their First Amendment rights.
These are lawful general regulations, violation of which, could subject one to punishment under various provision of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I.e., Article 88 and 92. The former provides that “[A]ny commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense . . . shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.” Note that in this case it does not matter that the words are used in a private or official capacity, but it also does not preclude adverse criticism of officials if not otherwise contemptuous.
Paragraph 4.1.3. of DoDD also prohibits commissioned officers from using contemptuous words while Paragraph 4.1.4 extends restrictions to service members that are not on active duty. Finally, Paragraph 4.1.5 provides generally that any activities not expressly prohibited should be avoided where such activity negatively reflects on the spirit and intent of the Directive.
Enclosure 3 of the DoDI prohibits participating in off-post demonstrations when (1) on-duty (2) in a foreign country (3) actions constitute breach of law and order (4) violence is likely to result, or (5) in uniform.
So what does this mean generally — Do not wear your uniform, Do not purport to speak in your military capacity, Do not be contemptuous in expressing your criticism, and Do clearly establish that your views are your own.
If you have specific questions about an activity in which you intend to engage, contact your command staff judge advocate or civil law officer for specific ethical advice.
DoD Directive 1344.10 – Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty
DoD Instruction 1325.06, Ch.1 – Handling Dissident and Protest Activities