By SGT Monica SmithMay 19, 2011
There is no absolute freedom of speech. At least not in this country. If you think I'm wrong, nine Supreme Court Justices will back me up. Doesn't matter if your military, civilian, male, female, at home, at church, at school, there are limits. Some examples are, you can't divulge classified material or you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater - well you CAN physically do all these things, but there are going to be consequences.
The freedom of speech is additionally limited when you join the military. Recent events have led to an outcry amongst military members, however you have to watch yourself. Going on Facebook and sharing your personal disrespectful feelings and opinions about the government, its elected officials, or even your chain of command can lead to some serious UCMJ charges.
According to my fabulous West Wing watching friend at the legal office, Soldiers do get to enjoy the same free speech rights - you can donate to campaigns, attend rallies or even be in a commercial, but only as an individual. Sgt. Sassy has to become Ms. Sassy in order to march downtown in a parade to advocate my right to carry a hot pink weapon concealed in my fabulous Kate Spade clutch.
"There are limits though," said Capt. Jeremy Haugh, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade judge advocate. "Soldiers are subject to the UCMJ, specifically Article 88 (Contempt toward officials); Article 92 (Failure to Obey Order or Regulation); Article 133 (Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman) and Article 134 (General Article which includes service-discrediting conduct). That last Article can be pretty broad, so if a Soldier does something to bring discredit upon the Army and his command, for example speak out against the repeal of 'Don't Ask, don't tell,' at a rally while in uniform, he can be reprimanded."
With regard to politics, Soldiers can say/do whatever they'd like but there are consequences to those choices. As a result some leadership chose to abstain from politics altogether. General Petraeus says he hasn't voted since he became a 2-star in 2002 because he wanted to be apolitical.
Now before I get ill informed hate mail about first amendment rights let me say this: You are permitted to disagree with a law, a policy, or an elected official's position. The problem comes when you express those disagreements with disrespect on a public forum or setting. For example, if tomorrow the president passes a law saying I can't eat chili cheese fries, I can't go on Facebook and say: "My president is a stupid idiot and I wish I could be in a room with him so I can shove fries down his face." There's a difference between that comment and: "Pretty angry right now. And hungry. RIP Chili Cheese Fries. I'll miss you." One is disrespectful and the other shows your opinion without dancing on a UCMJ line.
There are proper channels to voice your disagreements and advocate change and sadly, Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks aren't one of them. Surprisingly, those who make rules aren't your Facebook friends and aren't following you on Twitter - crazy, I know. I'll write to congress telling them to send a friend request.
The most popular avenue of change is to contact your member of Congress. Try sending letters (or emails for those with terrible handwriting skills). Make phone calls. The same goes for internal problems. Go to a "town hall" and state of the garrison meetings to voice your concerns. Call the Office of the Inspector General. There are ways to express yourself without being disrespectful and getting in trouble. Stupid head.