Bumper Stickers Considered A Platform Of Speech Subject To Scrutiny In The Military

Bumper Stickers Considered A Platform Of Speech Subject To Scrutiny In The Military

Bumper stickers are an effective method in which to communicate an idea or viewpoint in a short amount of time. Some bumper stickers serve to inform, others to vex or condemn. The individual who employs such bumper stickers is voluntarily claiming and asserting the message as its own in a passive manner which continuously advertises the message.

For civilians, there is seemingly no bumper sticker which is considered off-limits for being too abrasive or confrontational. After all, what is considered offensive to one is seen as proper to another. However, the same methodology does not apply to active military members.

For any branch of the military, it must be careful not to represent itself in an endorsing manner; that is, to condone or condemn controversial beliefs or causes. The potential for misunderstanding is great, and one inappropriate (comical?) bumper sticker on the fender of a soldier’s vehicle could create unnecessary headache for a branch. Each soldier is considered an extension of its respective branch, so an offensive bumper can reflect negatively on that branch’s reputation.

In the Air Force, pursuant to AFI 51-902, a member cannot “display a large political sign, banner or poster on a private vehicle.” As to the substantive content of the bumper sticker, Air Force regulations are silent. Instead, decisions of propriety are left up to a NCO or similar individual. If a command is given to remove the bumper sticker from the vehicle, the soldier must comply or risk being punished under Articles 91 and 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Article 91 punishes any enlisted member who “willfully disobeys the lawful order of a warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer.” Similarly, Article 92 punishes any person who “violates or fails to obey any lawful general order or regulation.”

Categories: Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army
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