The case of Second Lt. Spenser Rapone, West Point graduate and U.S. Army officer, has raised a number of issues relative to our military, our Bill of Rights, and our common defense.
Lt. Rapone is the West Point graduate who displayed, while in uniform, expressions of support for communism and socialism. He allegedly was critical of national command authority as well.
The Army has begun an investigation into how this young officer’s perspectives and anti-authority leanings were not uncovered prior to his graduation despite concerns from some of his academic officers at West Point.
When I personally condemned his actions and recommended disciplinary action, I received a number of widely varying comments on social media about the young officer’s actions and the discipline suggested. The vast majority condemned him and called for various forms of punishment. Most agreed with my perspective that he should be dismissed from the military and forced to repay the cost of his West Point education.
A number of other people suggested that taking any action against this person was unconstitutional because it violated his freedom of speech. When myself and fellow veterans noted that military personnel, while in uniform, have limits on our freedom of speech, the debate went viral.
There are three documents that are relevant to this discussion. One is the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, one is the oath of office as a commissioned officer in the U.S. military, and the other is the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
First, as a cadet Rapone would have taken an oath of office upon joining the U.S. military and again when he was commissioned at graduation from West Point.
That oath of office states: “I, _____, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.”
Once an officer is commissioned, the UCMJ is the standard under which all in the military submit.
In the case of Lt. Rapone the following are some of the provisions of the UCMJ that he would be suspected of violating. Please note that I am not an attorney; however, I am a retired Marine Reserve Colonel and former commanding officer and would have recommended such an investigation of violating the following articles of the UCMJ by any one in a similar situation to Lt. Rapone.
- Article 83 – fraudulent enlistment, appointment, or separation
- Article 84 – unlawful enlistment, appointment or separation
- Article 88 – contempt towards officials
- Article 89 – disrespect toward senior commissioned officer
- Article 94 – mutiny or sedition
- Article 107 – false statements
- Article 117 – provoking speeches or gestures
- Article 133 – conduct unbecoming an officer a gentleman
- Article 134 – General article
Finally, with the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution states in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”
The Bill of Rights says that Congress shall make no law relating to these rights. It does not mean that an employer or the military cannot regulate such freedoms, while you are in that organization’s employ as well as place other restrictions on your conduct that reflect poorly on the organization you work for.
What this young officer allegedly did was serious. It undermined the entire fabric of military discipline. It undermined command-and-control and potentially put soldiers at risk.
All officers and enlisted personnel’s Bill of Rights are limited once we take that oath of enlistment or office. The misguided perception in our society that you can say whatever you want whenever you want is perhaps even more troubling.
A society that lacks discipline in the very forces that it relies upon to defend it in times of national crisis is in grave danger. Misunderstanding your Bill of Rights wreaks havoc on young persons’ lives when they use it inappropriately.
I am stunned that this officer could have made it through a screening process to get the West Point, four years at West Point, and the security clearance review for a secret clearance and his anti-U.S. beliefs not have been uncovered.
This failure is symptomatic of a societal failure at understanding our Bill of Rights, our responsibilities when we take an oath of allegiance and office, and a systemic failure of the control mechanisms designed to protect us.
This seemingly trivial event at a West Point graduation warrants a full-scale congressional investigation of how it happened. Is the next September 11 crisis just ahead of us because of the failures of the very systems designed to protect us from an enemy within?
Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan and specializes in corporate restructuring. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at FRYAN1951@aol.com.