White House employees can support the Black Lives Matter movement at work because it's not a political activity, according to the Office of Special Counsel.
Politico reports that the independent federal watchdog found that federal government employees can wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts at work and invite coworkers to a fundraiser without violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from participating in some types of partisan political activity.
The Office of Special Counsel found that supporting Black Lives Matter is not considered a political activity because the Black Lives Matter Global Network is not a partisan political group.
“BLM is a ‘hot-button’ issue and both politically and culturally salient,” OSC said in a memo. “But BLM terminology is issue-based, not a campaign slogan. Therefore, using BLM terminology, without more, is not political activity. … [A]nd employees are not prohibited from wearing or displaying BLMGN paraphernalia in the workplace.”
The OSC issued the guidance last week and reissued it again this week, Politico reports.
The agency said it received “numerous” questions from federal employees who wanted to know if their support for BLM on the job violated the Hatch Act. The requests for information came after George Floyd’s death. Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white police officer on Memorial Day, which led to a nationwide call for racial justice.
Black Lives Matter was created after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen, in 2013.
While the OSC said the Hatch Act “generally” allows employees to participate in BLM-related activity at work, combining the event with a political activity involving the success or failure of a party, candidate or partisan political group is still banned.
The agency called Black Lives Matter “an umbrella term for a constellation of ideas, objectives, and groups,” with a goal of eliminating white supremacy under its Global Network.
“In furtherance of these goals it organizes programs around Black arts and culture, protests to achieve policy change, and provides toolkits and other resources for discussing and responding to racism,” OSC said. “BLMGN has not previously been involved in partisan political activity.”
The agency noted that Black Lives Matter Global Network representatives met with both party’s candidates in 2016 but didn’t endorse either. This election cycle, the group has focused on voter registration, racial injustice, police brutality, education, healthcare and the environment.
The OSC stated that participating in issue-based advocacy is allowed. What isn’t permitted is the use of Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” in the workplace.
“The Hatch Act generally prohibits employees from using or displaying political party and partisan campaign slogans,” OSC said. “For example, employees may not use President Trump’s campaign slogan, ‘Make America Great Again,’ in their email signatures while President Trump is a candidate for reelection.”
Even though BLMGN is “more frequently” associated with one political party over another “that does not make it a ‘partisan political group’ for purposes of the Hatch Act," OSC wrote. "Considering that BLMGN is overwhelmingly focused on policy issues, not on promoting or opposing political parties or candidates for partisan political office, it is not a partisan political group at this time.”
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