Woman wearing Black Lives Matter mask (Rose Makin/Shutterstock.com)

BLM materials not political, permitted at work, special counsel says

The Office of Special Counsel has clarified the federal government’s take on federal employees having or displaying Black Lives Matter paraphernalia in the federal workplace.

Its finding? BLM is not a political organization -- or even linked to a single such entity at all -- and so literature or other materials displaying the organization’s name or slogans is not, in itself, a violation of the Hatch Act, which restricts federal employee conduct with respect to partisan political activity.

The office issued the new guidance both on BLM and a related organization or set of organizations, the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLMGN).

“BLM is a ‘hot-button’ issue and both politically and culturally salient,” the OSC wrote in its guidance, updated and released July 14. “But BLM terminology is issue-based, not a campaign slogan.”

“Therefore, using BLM terminology, without more, is not political activity,” OSC concluded. “BLMGN does not meet any of the criteria for classification as a partisan political group. Therefore, BLMGN is not a partisan political group, and employees are not prohibited from wearing or displaying BLMGN paraphernalia in the workplace.”

In exploring the history behind the names, the OSC guidance called BLM a “social movement” -- something that came into being “organically,” after the phrase became widely used by protesters responding to the killings of several African Americans under disputed circumstances and often perceived flawed investigations or other criminal justice proceedings.

The term originated, the OSC document said, in  2013 and 2014, arising in the aftermath of the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and the court’s exoneration of the shooter, George Zimmerman.

“The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ then became a rallying cry for protesters and organizations seeking to raise awareness of, and respond to, issues associated with racism in the United States,” OSC wrote. “BLM is thus an umbrella term for a constellation of ideas, objectives, and groups. There is no ‘leader’ of the BLM movement.”

Further, OSC found, since BLM and its various advocates are not attached to any particular political party, there is no partisan taint in the use of the term or materials bearing its name.

OSC explicitly noted that its guidance only clears BLM materials and activity with respect to the Hatch Act. Other federal laws or regulations governing federal employees that might be applicable are not included in the guidance.

Reader comments

Fri, Aug 7, 2020

Previous Comments- Yes, because you- know-who has never made ANYTHING political. He makes the most innocent things political. Give me a break, and yet you attack BLM. Ridiculous.

Tue, Aug 4, 2020

The BLM website allows folks to donate money. Over $1 Billion was given to Democrat presidential campaigns. If that is not the definition of "Partisan", then I don't know what is. This is incredibly confusing for supervisors and managers in the federal sector. It makes no sense. Have your political opinion, but keep it to yourself. That is the Hatch Act in a nutshell.

Fri, Jul 24, 2020

Don't be stupid... #all lives matter is both racist and forbidden at work, period.

Fri, Jul 24, 2020

To the "Marxist" commenter--No, just because you say you found a published remark by some BLM chapter or person or website supporting Marxism doesn't mean they are all or even most of them "Marxist". BLM is very decentralized. If you have been to a rally or whatever, or bothered at all to look up how many and how wide a group of people are into BLM? I mean, major CAPTALIST corporations are endorsing BLM. It has the position in society right now, especially with young people, that the NAACP (which is still going strong) had in the deep past. It simply stands up for changing laws and especially legal practices by cops and judges that are racist against black people, to making them more fair. That usually means fewer shootings, beatings, tasings of randomly stopped black people. It also generally means to stop sending black people to jail much more frequently and for much longer sentences, on average, than white people, for the EXACT SAME infractions and lawbreaking. These INEQUITIES by RACE are proven by the data. This is what happens now. BLM and other groups want this changed. They are right to want that. It is NOT party-bound, political demands. It is regardless of political party. There are plenty of independents and even some Republicans who are for BLM. That's about it. Just because MOST people who SPEAK FOR one party are NOT down with BLM, does NOT make BLM a partisan party politics machine. Anymore than say Amnesty International is, as they want to protect and free political prisoners abroad. Most of their support happens to come from Dems. Doesn't make them partisan or part of the Dems. Just like Greenpeace. Most are Dems, again. But they are NOT a Dam sub-unit. Neither is BLM. GET WITH IT FOLKS. THINK. COMPARE. Is the Southern Baptist official organization a PARTISAN group? I would say NOT. They are protected as a RELIGIOUS organization. But they heavily heavily support GOP candidates. All of you who have written comments saying BLM is Marxist or Dem or whatever, ALL ARE WRONG.

Fri, Jul 24, 2020 CLERK

I WILL PUT IT THIS WAY. ALL LIVES MATTER. I DON'T CARE IF YOU DO/DON'T LIKE THE WORDS. DEAL WITH IT. STOP FIGHTING ONE ANOTHER. WE ARE NOT SO TOUGH AND THAT'S BULLIES. WE ARE SAME HUMAN BEING. ALL PEOPLES ARE NOT PERFECT. LOOK AT THE SKIES, THEY ARE BETTER THAN US. ANIMALS ARE WAY BETTER THAN US. THEY ARE HAVE DIFFERENT COLORS AND MIND. YOU SEE. ALL LIVES MATTER.

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