Thursday, March 06, 2008


Loyalty oaths?

Here’s an interesting one, via BoingBoing: it seems that California requires all “public employees” — which includes teachers — to sign an “Oath of Allegiance”. And a teacher at Cal State has just been fired because she’s a Quaker, and refused to sign the oath without modifying it to stipulate non-violence, a modification that officials declined to accept. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word “nonviolently” in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

For reference, here’s the oath in full, from the University of California form that’s currently available here (PDF):

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.

I find this whole thing to be bizarre. For one thing, the change that Ms Kearney-Brown tried to make was innocuous — and, in fact, she’d made it and used it more than once in the past, and it had been accepted by other state institutions. There was no good reason for Cal State to refuse the change. The human resources manager’s example of a case from 1968, in which a man wanted to alter the oath to have him swear “supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ” is specious: we can use our judgment, and can distinguish a minor change that retains the spirit of the oath from one that distorts it unacceptably.

What bothers me more, though, is that the oath is required at all. It seems acceptable that officials charged with constitutional duties — governors, legislators... the President — swear such oaths, though reality says that it doesn’t really make a difference what they swear to. But to require it from people such as teachers, purchasing agents, filing clerks, and snowplow operators is silly and unreasonable.

And that such a rule exists in California, of all states, is really troubling.

Update, 9 March: The teacher has been reinstated. A notable item about the loyalty oath from the L.A. Times article:

Typically, new employees sign it as a matter of routine along with a stack of other required employment documents. Some public employees say they don’t recall signing it.

1 comment:

lidija said...

I know! It's supposed to prevent terrorists from infiltrating the state institutions.