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Despite the Trump administration’s trotting out of out-of-context biblical references to justify its wrongful civil authority as “ordained by God,” the maneuver fell flat with most religious leaders, including the Pope. After all, to be moral in an immoral society is the grand calling of most major religions, including in the Judeo-Christian tradition as well as secular humanism. In the end, the sounds of wailing, caged children stunned the nation, causing even an amoral and famously non-empathetic president to reverse course and take the very action that days earlier he and members of his Cabinet had claimed was not possible.
For more than 2,000 children, that backtracking came too late. Having been ripped from their parents’ grasp by armed and uniformed officers and transported — often in the dead of night to at least 17 different states across the nation — will leave permanent scars on these little ones’ psyches. What’s worse is that agents at federal facilities allegedly were ordered not to pick up distraught children. It’s not hard to understand how the administration’s family separation policy, which seemed calculated to bolster Trump’s image as an uncompromising strongman, sparked widespread anger and protest. So the pious religious blather of the president’s sycophants seemed like more salt poured into the wound, sparking even greater outrage from the truly religious.
It is in just such cases in which federal employees and contractors should understand their right to refuse to obey illegal orders. They also have the right to blow the whistle on violations of laws, rules and regulations; abuse of authority; gross waste; gross mismanagement; and specific health and safety dangers. To better acquaint workers with these rights, our organization, the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistle-blower protection organization, has prepared a guide for all federal employees and contractors outlining how to exercise these rights, right secured for U.S. federal workers by courageous whistle-blowers over the last four decades.
The federal employees and contractors who take the honorable but risky step of refusing orders might have to prove that those orders were actually illegal. There are many organizations and law firms — including the Government Accountability Project — that are willing to help with legal research, investigation and legal advocacy to prove a particular order indeed unlawful. Other categories of employees who blow the whistle need to have a reasonable belief that they are exposing a violation. It is hard to imagine any fair tribunal that would rule it was not reasonable for a federal employee or contractor to blow the whistle on what is now playing out on our southern border.
Our organization has represented and is currently representing government employees who are exposing the placement of children in adult prisons and jails and of immigrant children into the custody of convicted felons and sex offenders. We represent others who are pushing back against the release of children contracted facilities without proper oversight or follow-up.
With the nationwide crackdown on any information about black site detention facilities, and the refusal of federal officials to allow the media into these facilities, the burden has now been squarely put on whistle-blowers to document and expose child abuse, contractor gauging, rampant mismanagement, and other corruption. The law is on the side of those who reveal problems, but that road is still fraught with risks. In the end, those who exercise their individual consciences will be the heroes of this bureaucratic age. If nothing else, they will be able to look in the mirror and be proud about whom they see reflected back.