Friday, May 9, 2008

Stop "Loyalty Oath" Witchhunt

"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."

Article XX, Section 3 of the California Constitution, § 1360 Necessity of taking constitutional oath
I thank People for the American Way for sending me an email to inform me of their campaign to reinstate Wendy Gonaver, an American-studies lecturer at California State University at Fullerton. Ms. Gonaver was fired the day before classes last semester. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports it:
... she would not “sign an oath swearing to ‘defend’ the U.S. and California constitutions ‘against all enemies, foreign and domestic’” unless she was allowed to include a statement explaining her views, “a practice allowed by other state institutions,” the reporter, Richard C. Paddock, writes. The university refused to grant her request.

Earlier this year, California State University at East Bay fired Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker mathematics instructor, for trying to add the word “nonviolently” to the state loyalty oath and for refusing to sign it when the university did not allow her to add the word. She was later reinstated.
As a number of articles point out, academic loyalty oaths are a remnant of the Cold War, when anti-communist hysteria took root at colleges and universities across the U.S. For instance, in 1950, prominent psychologist Erik Erikson left the University of California at Berkeley rather than sign the McCarthyeseque "loyalty oaths" demanded by the university at that time. (He ultimately ended up back in academia around ten years later, at Harvard.)

A Los Angeles Times story on the Gonaver case notes that while written to catch and persecute communists during the McCarthy era, the effect today is to persecute religious believers for whom non-violence is a signal belief. The Times article explains:
As a Quaker from Pennsylvania and a lifelong pacifist, Gonaver objected to the California oath as an infringement of her rights of free speech and religious freedom. She offered to sign the pledge if she could attach a brief statement expressing her views, a practice allowed by other state institutions. But Cal State Fullerton rejected her statement and insisted that she sign the oath if she wanted the job.

"I wanted it on record that I am a pacifist," said Gonaver, 38. "I was really upset. I didn't expect to be fired. I was so shocked that I had to do this."

California State University officials say they were simply following the law and did not discriminate against Gonaver because all employees are required to sign the oath. Clara Potes-Fellow, a Cal State spokeswoman, said the university does not permit employees to submit personal statements with the oath....

Certain school districts and community colleges have been known to let employees change the wording of the oath when they sign or to ignore the requirement altogether. Others, including the University of California, advise employees on how they can register their objections yet still sign the pledge.

All state, city, county, public school, community college and public university employees -- about 2.3 million people -- are covered by the law, although noncitizens are not required to sign.

UC Berkeley was the first to impose a tough anti-communist loyalty oath in 1949 and fired 31 professors who refused to sign.
(Erikson refused to sign the oath, in part, as a protest against the firing of the professors.)

While you would think that first amendment rights would stop attempts to impose loyalty oaths, the law and Supreme Court decisions have been equivocal. (See this article from the website for Cornell University Law School.)

The rulers of this country keep archaic laws such as loyalty oaths "on the books" not to persecute Quakers and Jehovah's Witnesses, but to police dissent in the society, to harass those who believe in the need for radical societal change, and in general to impose a totalitarian uniformity of thought upon society, and most particularly upon those who staff and run the institutions that manufacture and teach knowledge in the society.

The abrupt fall of the Soviet Union, which led to a triumphalist and belligerent stance internationally by U.S. rulers, produced a hazy amnesia upon the American populace, who remains unaware of how the effects of the Cold War ballooning of the national security state remain still with us. The "war on terror" is not much more than a repackaged campaign from the Cold War era, with a new ersatz enemy to be feared, and a military, CIA, and defense and educational establishment set to perpetuate its World War and Cold War existence no matter what the cost.

That the neanderthals at Cal State Fullerton cannot bend to accommodate the non-violent Quaker beliefs of Wendy Gonaver is an ominous sign that the forces of nationalist and militarist reaction have made great headway in America in the Bush years.

You may feel angered enough to go to the PFAW website and sign their petition demanding Cal State allow its employees to "express their religious or other objections to signing the state’s 'loyalty oath.'"

While I can support this call, it strikes me that the proper stance to take is to demand an end to all loyalty oaths. They are not meant to really stop saboteurs, terrorists, communists, or anyone else who would really wish to powerfully oppose this country -- what person so inclined would feel any compunction about lying on such an oath anyway? Loyalty oaths are meant to police and frighten the population. They are against everything this country was founded upon. They should be banned.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

LA Times reporter Richard Paddock typically fails to mention the 1994 Jehovah's Witness lawsuit in which Fresno City College was court-ordered to pay a mother-daughter pair of JWs $260,000.00 over this "loyalty oath" issue.

Go to the following webpage to read about that court case and other similars:

Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

This site can contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.