Court relaxes ban on speech pay for federal workers

March 31, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court has ruled that employees in the executive branch of government may accept payment for writing articles and giving speeches unrelated to their work, striking down a ban on such payments as a violation of the First Amendment.

The court said the ban, included in a 1989 ethics law, imposed excessive limits on the free-speech rights of such employees. Judge Stephen F. Williams of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the ban was "unduly overinclusive" because it applied to speaking or writing about topics unrelated to an employee's job.

The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 declared that a federal employee "may not receive any honorarium," defined as "a payment of money or any thing of value for an appearance, speech or article."

The law took effect Jan. 1, 1991. The Federal Office of Government Ethics told employees that the statute prevented them from taking payment for articles or speeches even if the subject was unrelated to their work.

In its ruling yesterday, the appellate court said it had to balance the government's interest in avoiding any appearance of impropriety or corruption among federal workers with the rights of the employees.

The National Treasury Employees Union filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of government employees.

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