By Charles M. Pickett
A while ago, I was in a conversation with fellow comrades about a VFW meeting where a VFW comrade announced his candidacy for a department-level position; unfortunately, the next recognized comrade called the candidate a “liar” and proceeded to insult the candidate.
While perhaps entertaining, ad hominem (Latin for ‘to the person’) attacks, unbecoming speech, disorderly conduct, or abusive language at any point in a meeting are not appropriate.
According to the VFW Bylaws, “No member shall in debate impeach the motives of a fellow member or treat them with disrespect. Members shall avoid personalities and unbecoming speech” (2023 Podium Edition). This is echoed in Robert’s Rules.
So how could situations like this be corrected?:
- Any comrade may declare, “Point of Order: Ad Hominem attack.” Then the chair would act upon the point of order. It can also be similar like, “Point of Order: Abusive language.”
- The chair could admonish the speaker with something generic and de-escalating like, “Please, refrain from unbecoming speech.” Correct the rule violation, not the person. Go super pro and say, “Well taken. Unbecoming speech is against VFW Bylaws. Please refrain.”
Remember, a point of order must be recorded in the minutes [Smith motioned a point of order for ad hominem attack. Chair admonished speaker.] Additionally, a point of order is used to draw attention to a breach in the rules. Adjutants, don’t “name” the speaker at this point.
What happens if the situation is not corrected and the speaker keeps insulting the member?
- If the speaker ignores the admonishment and continues to insult or argue against a person instead of the position, the chair can rule the “discussion” (not the speaker) is out of order and for the person to relinquish the floor.
- If the speaker sits down and apologizes immediately after being deprived of the floor, the chair ~could~ “recess until called back into session.” That way, things could cool down OR they could really explode (but it isn’t during a meeting).
If it really gets ugly, what can the chair do?
- “When a member is called to order for disorderly conduct or abusive language, if such conduct is not immediately stopped and an apology immediately proffered by said member, disciplinary action may be taken against such member” (2023 Podium Edition).
- If the offending speaker does not relinquish the floor, the chair may additionally order the offending speaker to retire from the room. Say something like, “The chair now orders Comrade Snuffy to retire from the room.” Adjutants, now “name” the offending speaker in the minutes as something was done
- Snuffy won’t like that; however, the chair can take any pushback as an appeal, and according to VFW Bylaws there is no debate on appeals for indecorum.
- The chair may simply say, “Shall the decision of the Chair be sustained? Those in favor say aye; those opposed say no.” (A majority vote is needed to overrule the decision.)
- This way, the whole group votes on the decision by the chair for the offending speaker to retire from the room–not just the chair.
- DO NOT ORDER AN OFFENDING COMRADE TO BE REMOVED FROM THE ROOM. This is assault. No hands on people, please.
While this situation rarely happens, it does happen. Being prepared to address what can be an emotionally charged and potential litigious situation can save you and your post/district/department lots of time and money.
In short, “The moment the chair hears such words as ‘fraud,’ ‘liar,’ or ‘lie’ used about a member in debate, he must act immediately and decisively to correct the matter and prevent its repetition” (Robert 43:21).
Pertinent VFW Bylaw Sections
ARTICLE X – RULES OF ORDER, Sec. 1001 – Rules of Order Governing All Meetings, 6: No member shall in debate impeach the motives of a fellow member or treat them with disrespect. Members shall avoid personalities and unbecoming speech. A member shall not pass between the speaker and the chair. Any conversation calculated to disturb a member while speaking or hinder the transaction of business, shall be deemed a violation of order, and, if continued, the offending member shall be reprimanded by the presiding officer and may be ordered to retire from the room. Failure to comply with an order to retire may subject a member to disciplinary action for conduct prejudicial to the good order and discipline. When a member is called to order for disorderly conduct or abusive language, if such conduct is not immediately stopped and an apology immediately proffered by said member, disciplinary action may be taken against such member (108).
19. An appeal is debatable and the presiding officer is entitled to debate it without being required to surrender the Chair. However, appeals are not debatable when they relate to (a) indecorum—as when a member is deprived of the floor by the presiding officer for disorderly conduct; abusive language, or because of impugning the motives of members of the assembly, or otherwise indulging in personalities; (b) transgression of the rules of debate— as when a member is denied the floor because they have already spoken twice on the question, or because they have exceeded their 10 minute debate when they had the floor or for failure to confine oneself to the pending question, and (c) when the immediately pending motion is not debatable or debate has been voted closed (111).
2023 Podium Edition: Congressional Charter, Bylaws, Manual of Procedure, Ritual. Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, 20 Aug. 2022.
Robert Henry M et al. Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. 12th edition a new and enlarged ed. Public Affairs 2020.
Schreck, Joshua N, and Johnathan R Duncan. “Parliamentary Procedure.” 123rd National Convention Parliamentary Training Session. 123rd VFW National Convention, 2 Aug. 2022, Kansas City.