Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Illini Campus Political Speech Ban Dubious

At the University of Illinois, an opinion has been issued by the Office of Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor ("OEIG"), indicating that students, faculty and staff at the University must refrain from all political speech while at work.

The University of Illinois has sparked outrage by telling faculty, staff and graduate students that a 5-year-old state law designed to prevent state workers from campaigning for candidates on state time or with state resources meant they could not express support for candidates or parties through pins, T-shirts or bumper stickers while on campus. Nor could they attend any political rally or event on campus, the administration said.|U. of I. debate arises over campaigning on campus - Chicago Tribune|


While I found some discussion of these events at the Workplace Prof Blog, I couldn't find the Illinois statute at issue listed anywhere, so I went perusing the OEIG's website, and I think this is the statute at issue.
(5 ILCS 430/5‑15)
Sec. 5‑15. Prohibited political activities.
(a) State employees shall not intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time (other than vacation, personal, or compensatory time off). State employees shall not intentionally misappropriate any State property or resources by engaging in any prohibited political activity for the benefit of any campaign for elective office or any political organization.

(b) At no time shall any executive or legislative branch constitutional officer or any official, director, supervisor, or State employee intentionally misappropriate the services of any State employee by requiring that State employee to perform any prohibited political activity (i) as part of that employee's State duties, (ii) as a condition of State employment, or (iii) during any time off that is compensated by the State (such as vacation, personal, or compensatory time off).

(c) A State employee shall not be required at any time to participate in any prohibited political activity in consideration for that State employee being awarded any additional compensation or employee benefit, in the form of a salary adjustment, bonus, compensatory time off, continued employment, or otherwise.

(d) A State employee shall not be awarded any additional compensation or employee benefit, in the form of a salary adjustment, bonus, compensatory time off, continued employment, or otherwise, in consideration for the State employee's participation in any prohibited political activity.

(e) Nothing in this Section prohibits activities that are otherwise appropriate for a State employee to engage in as a part of his or her official State employment duties or activities that are undertaken by a State employee on a voluntary basis as permitted by law.

(f) No person either (i) in a position that is subject to recognized merit principles of public employment or (ii) in a position the salary for which is paid in whole or in part by federal funds and that is subject to the Federal Standards for a Merit System of Personnel Administration applicable to grant‑in‑aid programs, shall be denied or deprived of State employment or tenure solely because he or she is a member or an officer of a political committee, of a political party, or of a political organization or club.

(Source: P.A. 93‑615, eff. 11‑19‑03.) |Link (emphasis added)|
If this is indeed the statute in question then it strikes me that the interpretation given this statute is highly suspect.

The first four sub-sections prohibit campaigning while on duty or ordering subordinates to campaign while on duty, but doesn't reach mere symbolic political speech while on duty.

Indeed, subsection (e), which I've bolded above, carves out an exception for normal political speech such as wearing buttons and putting bumper stickers on cars.

I think someone in the OEIG's office has either misread the statute or taken a laughably conservative position on the legal implications of this statute.

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