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.”