Does a Law Enforcement Oath Mean Anything Anymore?
I had coffee recently with a friend of mine, a retired FBI agent. We were talking about the mess the FBI has become. He’s even more disturbed about the politicization of the bureau than I am. During our talk he said something very interesting: “Current agents are just keeping their heads down and following orders.” A simple statement with profound implications.
Jobs in law enforcement are fundamentally different than other jobs. That difference is the oath that all law enforcement officers swear. The FBI oath states:
I 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 reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
All federal, state, and local law enforcement officials swear something similar.
Certainly, following lawful orders is important, but notice that there is nothing mentioned about obedience to leadership. That’s because following orders is between the officers and their leaders. Upholding their oath is between them and us, the American people. We expect them to make judgements about right and wrong, and the oath is their assurance that they will do so conscientiously.
All law enforcement officers, including FBI agents, who are “just following orders” are missing the point of their oath. They may be bound by agency rules to follow orders, but they are bound by sacred honor to remain faithful to the American people.
There’s a reason why people in law enforcement are required to place their honor on the line for the citizens they serve. No other occupation is allowed to detain, sometimes with restraints, another person solely based on their word that it’s justified. A cop can pull over a car, administer a sobriety test, handcuff the driver, and arrest him if he’s found to be impaired. No citizen who has not sworn the oath can do such a thing.
We grant the police the awesome powers of the state. In exchange, they promise to not abuse those powers. They promise to serve the public, as prescribed in the Constitution. That promise takes precedence over orders. So long as their leadership directs their activities consistent with the Constitution, there’s no problem. But when leadership directs them to do something counter to the Constitution -- like ordering them to violate someone’s civil liberties -- such orders are unlawful. An officer’s oath, whether he be a police officer or an FBI agent, is a promise to assess the constitutionality of all orders before blindly obeying them.
And yet we’ve seen widespread infractions of that promise across the range of law enforcement. Churchgoers have been cited or even arrested for failing to comply with closure orders. Worship is a basic human right guaranteed by the 1st Amendment. There is no pandemic exception in the Constitution. Federal and local officials have no authority to order such closures. Orders for police to enforce the closures were unlawful. Yet, far too many cops simply followed their orders.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has been affirmed by the courts to include property rights. No government official can take or lower the value of your property without due process and appropriate compensation. Yet some businesses have been ordered closed, rendering them worthless. Police have been charged with enforcing the closures, and they’ve done it. An untold number of American citizens have lost their businesses and even their life savings, simply because the police “followed orders.”
The FBI has dispatched agents to identify and question anyone in attendance at the January 6 protest -- ostensibly to identify the person who placed bombs outside the DNC and RNC headquarter buildings. However, there are no reports that everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods have been questioned. Why are peaceful protesters presumed to have seen something just because they were in the same city on the same day? Have members of Congress been questioned? They were in the city too. Are the agents really investigating? Or are they just letting the protesters know: We know you were there. To have agents show up at one’s door has the effect of chilling freedom of assembly and political expression -- a 1st Amendment violation. We don’t know how many agents have refused to comply, but we know that a great many have not refused.
Project Veritas has been in the news lately because the FBI raided the homes of its leader, James O’Keefe, and a number his reporters. The FBI even seized working documents, and is alleged to have leaked them to other news agencies. That is also a 1st Amendment violation. The courts have interceded to constrain the FBI, but it should have been stopped by the agents before it even happened.
Parents have been arrested for protesting at school-board meetings. The arresting officers weren’t even responding to the orders of their superiors. They were complying with a request from the school board itself. So now a private citizen can demand that another private citizen be arrested for saying something they don’t like, and the police comply without even questioning it? As disturbing as that is, it gets even worse. The FBI has created “tags” in its tracking database to track this constitutional behavior as possible instances of domestic terrorism. That is a violation of citizens’ rights to free speech, assembly, and due process -- the 1st and 4th Amendments.
We have even observed the FBI interfering in the peaceful transition of power following an election. Crossfire Hurricane was the FBI’s “insurance policy” against a Trump presidency. That’s not my terminology. “Insurance policy” is the term Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok used to describe his plan to use the power of the FBI to prevent Trump from being elected, and to interfere with his administration if he was elected anyway. That plot was confirmed by FBI lawyer Lisa Page in sworn congressional testimony. It was a blatant attempt by our “public servants” to prevent an electoral outcome they found undesirable -- and reverse the election if it didn’t go the way they wanted it to.
Compliance with an officer’s oath can involve personal risk. To refuse an order from one’s superior carries the risk of seriously damaging -- or even ending -- an officer’s career. But the thing is, they’ve already promised us that they would make that sacrifice on our behalf. That’s the deal they strike with the public to be in law enforcement.
If their oath no longer binds them, how does that change our relationship with law enforcement? If their sworn word no longer means what it says, how can we believe them the next time they swear to tell the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” in court? When an officer assures us that they made an arrest for sound reasons, are they standing for justice, or using their authority for personal or political gain? If their oath is meaningless, they become no more credible than the person they’ve placed under arrest.
Far too many law-enforcement officers, FBI agents included, have demonstrated that they are no longer agents of the Constitution. At best, they’re just employees doing as told. Their oath has become an irrelevant formality. Given that, why should we continue to vest them with the authority of the state? For one reason, and one reason only, it’s a dangerous world. We need police organizations to maintain order. But we need them to be better than they have been, so that order does not become tyranny.
John Green is a political refugee from Minnesota, now residing in Idaho. He currently writes at the American Free News Network (afnn.us). He can be followed on Facebook or reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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