The Uniform Code of Military Justice in the United States makes clear that a service person’s duty is to “obey any lawful general order or regulation.” Failing to do so can mean a court-martial and dire consequences. The key word in that bit of code is “lawful.” Many legal observers would argue that if a service person is obliged to follow a lawful order, he or she has an equal obligation to disregard an unlawful order. They might also argue that the same rule applies to civilian federal employees in Texas and elsewhere in the system.
The issue, however, is that it is not up to the individual to decide what is or is not a lawful order. You might question if an order is lawful when it is issued, but a final determination about whether it is or not may require a trip through the court system. That can take a long time. In the meantime, a conscientious employee refusing to follow an order could be facing discipline or discharge. There are avenues available for protecting employee rights, but they, too, are complex and can take a long time.
Those with experience in federal employee rights know this issue is never very far from the surface. It has bubbled to the surface recently, though, in reaction to at least one executive order issued by President Donald Trump. The trigger mechanism was the order restricting immigration from seven Muslim majority countries. One Department of Justice official refused to defend the order and got fired for it. Meanwhile, several federal judges issued restraining orders against the White House action. Some state governments are suing the administration.
For federal workers pondering the question of what to do there is no easy answer. Despite protections, there are risks involved in acting on one’s conscience. Considering the implications of such actions, it’s important to understand those risks fully and one’s rights before making such a call.