"Quaker Teacher Fired for Changing Loyalty Oath":

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to [California State University East Bay] 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....

[W]hen asked to "swear (or affirm)" that she would "support and defend" the U.S. and state Constitutions "against all enemies, foreign and domestic," Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote "nonviolently" in front of the word "support," crossed out "swear," and circled "affirm." All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said....

Modifying the oath "is very clearly not permissible," the university's attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. "It's an unfortunate situation. If she'd just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment." ...

"Based on the advice of counsel, we cannot permit attachments or addenda that are incompatible and inconsistent with the oath," the campus' human resources manager, JoAnne Hill, wrote ....

Hill said Kearney-Brown could sign the oath and add a separate note to her personal file that expressed her views. Kearney-Brown declined. "To me it just wasn't the same. I take the oath seriously, and if I'm going to sign it, I'm going to do it nonviolently." ...

Now I appreciate Cal State's desire to follow the law; the California Constitution does prescribe the text of the oath, and says "all public ... employees, ... except such inferior officers and employees as may be by law exempted, shall, before they enter upon the duties of their respective offices, take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation." But surely there are times to interpret laws as requiring substantial compliance rather than strict literalism. Even the precedent that Ms. Hill cites as supposedly requiring the exact text of the oath (see the article for more on that) seems to take this view: It rejected the applicant's modified oath only after stressing that the modifications were not "surplusage" or "innocuous or merely expository," but rather "ma[d]e equivocal the essential oath preceding [the applicant's personal statement]." Likewise, the venerable principle that laws should be interpreted in a way that minimizes possible constitutional problems (here chiefly First Amendment problems related to compelled speech) counsels in favor of reading the law to provide some flexibility. In light of this, letting Ms. Kearney-Brown sign the entire oath, simply with the addition of a term, seems sufficiently consistent with the state mandate.

True, the Supreme Court has held that it doesn't violate the First Amendment to require certain narrow loyalty oaths, including support-and-defend oaths, for government employees. But the Court's justification was precisely that these oaths "do[] not require specific action in some hypothetical or actual situation"; they embody "simply a commitment to abide by our constitutional system ... [and] a commitment not to use illegal and constitutionally unprotected force to change the constitutional system."

Adding "nonviolently" to the oath (or affirmation) thus doesn't change its legal meaning: As the Supreme Court pointed out, the original oath has never been understood to require violent action. Draft laws and other laws may sometimes require such action, but they generally don't require it of women, and in any event it is those laws -- not the oaths required of a wide range of nonmilitary government employees -- that require the action.

So it looks like the state is losing a valuable employee, and has to spend time, money, and effort hiring a new employee. And people who (for religious reasons or other reasons) oppose violence and are especially scrupulous about not promising what they can't deliver lose the opportunity to work in state jobs. As I said, I agree the government should follow the law. But surely the law has enough flexibility in it to avoid this sort of pointless result.

Thanks to Joel Sogol for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. College Teacher Fired Over Loyalty Oath:
  2. "Pacifist Cal State Teacher Gets Job Back":
  3. "Quaker Teacher Fired for Changing Loyalty Oath":
"Pacifist Cal State Teacher Gets Job Back":

The S.F. Chronicle reports:

A Cal State East Bay math teacher and practicing Quaker who was fired for refusing to sign a state-required loyalty oath got her job back this week, with an apology from the university and a clarification that the oath does not require employees to take up arms in violation of their religious beliefs....

In a grievance hearing Thursday conducted in a telephone conference call, an attorney for the California State University chancellor's office presented Kearney-Brown with a statement saying in part, "Signing the oath does not carry with it any obligation or requirement that public employees bear arms or otherwise engage in violence."

With that statement stapled to the loyalty oath, and a promise by the university to present the clarifying language to other new employees, Kearney-Brown said Friday that she felt comfortable signing the form and returning to work.

For more on this story, see our earlier post.

College Teacher Fired Over Loyalty Oath:

The LA Times has an interesting story on a Cal State Fullerton instructor, Wendy Gonaver, who was fired for refusing to sign the state's loyalty oath.

the day before class was scheduled to begin, her appointment as a lecturer abruptly ended over just the kind of issue that might have figured in her course. She lost the job because she did not sign a loyalty oath swearing to "defend" the U.S. and California constitutions "against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

The loyalty oath was added to the state Constitution by voters in 1952 to root out communists in public jobs. Now, 16 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main effect is to weed out religious believers, particularly Quakers and Jehovah's Witnesses.

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.

Apparently this is not an isolated incident.

In February, another Cal State instructor, Quaker math teacher Marianne Kearney-Brown, was fired because she inserted the word "nonviolently" when she signed the oath. She was quickly rehired after her case attracted media attention.

It is hard to know how many would-be workers decline to sign the pledge over religious or political issues. Some object because they interpret the pledge as a commitment to take up arms. Others have trouble swearing an oath to something other than their God.

I don't know as much about this area of the law, but I find it hard to believe that this policy could survive a court challenge, particularly since (as the story notes) the Cal State system applies the oath requirement more stringently than is required. Other state agencies apparently allow individuals to qualify the oath or attach explanatory statements.