Thursday, May 15, 2008

Loyalty Oaths

Monday I received the following People for the American Way call to action email.

Imagine losing your job because you took a principled stand.

Wendy Gonaver was hired to teach two courses last fall at Cal State Fullerton but was fired because she refused to sign a "loyalty oath" without being able to add a note explaining that her religious views as a Quaker and pacifist would prevent her from taking up arms.

That's not the American Way.

Ms. Gonaver was perfectly willing to sign the oath to uphold the Constitution as long as she could clarify that she wasn't committing herself to military action and that she had free speech concerns with a compelled "loyalty oath."

People For the American Way Foundation has sent a letter to Cal State on Ms. Gonaver's behalf urging the school to change its policy and allow employees who have religious or other objections to signing the "loyalty oath" to append an explanation of their views that would then allow them to sign the oath. The University of California already has such a policy in place in order to protect its employees' religious freedom and free speech rights.

Please join us by signing a petition urging Cal State to adopt a policy that doesn't violate religious liberty and freedom of speech.

We've included our suggested new policy below.

Please help us make sure Cal State does the right thing now by standing up for Wendy Gonaver's constitutional rights.

-- People For the American Way Foundation

Text of state "loyalty oath:"
"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."

Suggested new policy statement for Cal State University:
CSU recognizes that some of our employees may have religious or other objections to taking this oath. It is our policy to accommodate the religious and other beliefs of our employees by allowing an employee to append an explanatory statement to the employee's signed oath.

You can read the entire text of People For the American Way Foundation's letter here:
Petition link:

While it's bizarre and objectionable that California still has this type of loyalty oath for state employees, the particular concern raised in the PFAW call to action seems to have been addressed a few months ago, at least according to this article. Why PFAW is getting on it now, with a different Quaker, is not clear.

Now, maybe this Quaker has other issues, or Cal. State Fullerton is being much dumber and more annoying than they should be, or both. But this article indicates that this problem has an amicable resolution, and the topic of the loyalty oath has been brought up in public and condemned, at least by hippy journalists.

On their website PFAW refers to an L.A. Times article.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

This call to action resonated with me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is my grandfather's involvement in Wieman v. Updegraff, 73 S.Ct. 215 (1952). My grandfather, a World War II Navy veteran, was a philosophy professor at a state college in Oklahoma at the start of the McCarthy Era. When Oklahoma, like many states at the time, instituted a loyalty oath for all state employees, my grandfather and a few other professors did not subscribe to the loyalty oath.

A group of "citizens and taxpayers" filed suit to enjoin officials of the State of Oklahoma from paying these professors for their failure to subscribe to the loyalty oath. The District Court of Oklahoma County enjoined the state officers from paying my grandfather and his fellow professors. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma agreed with the district court. My grandfather and his colleagues appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As one of a series of cases considering legislation "aimed at safeguarding the public service from disloyalty," the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Mr. Justice Clark, held that the statute requiring state officers and employees to take a loyalty oath that they are not and for five years immediately preceding the taking of the oath have not been affiliated with or members of organizations listed by the United States Attorney General or other authorized federal agencies as a communist front or subversive offends due process by reason of the indiscriminate classification of possibly innocent with knowing association or membership in such organizations.

Now, that may all sound well and good from the good guys win in the end perspective. But to put it in a little more context, my grandfather, who was supporting a wife and three children at the time, lost his job and was blacklisted. He went from teaching philosophy to being a migrant farm worker. In its opinion the court briefly touched on this, quoting Judge Learned Hand.
There can be no dispute about the consequences visited upon a person excluded from public employment on disloyalty grounds. In the view of the community, the stain is a deep one; indeed, it has become a badge of infamy. Especially is this so in time of cold war and hot emotions when "each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy"
My grandfather eventually returned to academe. Years later his badge of infamy took the form of skin cancer caused by his time laboring in the fields.

Update 6/3/2008:
The Chronicle of Higher Education (which has a subscription only site) reported today that Cal State-Fullerton and the lecturer reached an agreement over the state loyalty oath. The instructor and the university have negotiated the language in an explanatory statement that will allow her to sign the oath.

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Thalia said...

I remember you telling me about your grandfather: it's a powerful and moving history of what it means for really taking a stand... and the seen and unseen consequences that can so easily be brushed over later.