Tag Archives: loyalty oath

CSU Reaches Agreement on Loyalty Oath

As we’ve reported before, the CSU has had a problem with refusing to allow potential employees to modify the state’s loyalty oath to fit the employee’s religious needs, despite the fact that the UC system has had no problem accommodating such religious freedoms. Eventually People For the American Way got involved and today they reached an agreement with CSU that gets one of the fired employees a job this fall and ensures that CSU will finally begin properly administering the oath:

CSU has agreed to appoint [Wendy] Gonaver as a temporary lecturer teaching two classes in American Studies and Women’s Studies during the fall 2008 semester, and to allow the attachment of a revised explanatory statement to the oath that CSU agrees does not undermine or qualify the oath….

Judith E. Schaeffer, Legal Director of People For the American Way Foundation and Gonaver’s attorney, said the settlement clears the way for others with religious or other objections to the oath to attach an explanatory statement, as long as the statement does not undermine or qualify the oath.

This is a welcome result – Wendy Gonaver should never have been fired and the CSU should have had better practices to handle religious objections to the oath. Still, this doesn’t mean everything is now fine – the loyalty oath still exists, and remains an obsolete relic of a McCarthyist past. California legislators should ramp up their efforts to do away with this pointless oath, so that schools and teachers can get on with the business of educating their students.

11,000 Petitions Delivered to CSU on the Loyalty Oath

While Jeff Denhamn chases Communist ghosts, activism on the loyalty oath continues. In response to recent firings of Quaker teachers who needed to alter the oath, People for the American Way delivered 11,000 petitions to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed’s office calling for the CSU system to conform to case law and the UC system practice of allowing employees to attach an “explanatory statement” to the oath clarifying its relationship to their religious beliefs. The petition text:

“There’s no good reason for Cal State not to let employees express their religious or other objections to signing the state’s “loyalty oath.”

“Please uphold freedom of religion and freedom of speech by adopting a policy that allows employees to add an explanatory statement to the oath that will allow them to sign it without violating their beliefs.

“This is already common practice at the University of California. You should make it the practice of Cal State.”

PFAW Foundation President Kathryn Kolbert explained it this way:

“It is simply beyond irony that a teacher planning an American studies course with a section on the McCarthy era would be required to sign a ‘loyalty oath.’ Our members are engaged around this issue, and we’re committed to seeing it through to the end. This should be a straightforward matter for the University, the protection of religious freedom and free speech. We’re hopeful this issue will be resolved soon.”

There is no reason for the CSU system to not embrace these calls for reform. The loyalty oath is an anachronism from the 1950s, and while CSU cannot refuse to administer it, they are under an obligation to handle it with respect to Californians’ religious freedoms. The recent firings of CSU teachers at the Fullerton and East Bay campuses suggest that CSU needs to change its policies and practices.

You can also sign the petition online – and help ensure religious freedom and civil liberties at the CSU system.

What is CSU’s Problem with the Loyalty Oath?

Last week I brought you the story of another CSU teacher who was fired for wanting to change the state’s ridiculous and anachronistic loyalty oath to suit her religious beliefs. Today’s LA Times brings us the update on her story:

A Quaker who lost her appointment as a Cal State Fullerton lecturer after she objected to a state loyalty oath submitted a revised statement of her beliefs Thursday in a bid to win the job back.

People For the American Way, a Washington-based civil rights group now representing lecturer Wendy Gonaver, called on the university to reinstate her and adopt a policy protecting the religious freedom of all California State University system employees.

“She is willing to sign the oath as long as she can exercise her free-speech rights and note that her views as a Quaker would prevent her from taking up arms,” said Kathryn Kolbert, president of the organization and a constitutional lawyer. “We would like to avoid filing a lawsuit, but we are certainly prepared to do so if we need to.”

PFAW has clearly stepped up on this, and rightly so – this is a clear-cut case of violation of constitutional rights and Wendy Gonaver deserves support. They have proposed a new CSU policy regarding the oath in a letter to the Cal State Fullerton administration:

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.

This would be a sensible policy, at least until the state finally does away with the moronic oath. No word yet on whether CSU is going to accept this, but the recent incidents suggest that CSU needs to reexamine their practices regarding the oath and need to adopt proposals such as this to guarantee the rights of their employees. There is absolutely no reason for them to resist this.

Unfortunately for Wendy Gonaver, Cal State Fullerton is resistant on offering her the job again:

[CSU General Counsel Christine] Helwick said the campus might not be able to rehire her despite the revision: “The addendum she is now proposing is different in tone, scope and content from the one she originally presented. However, the position for which she originally applied last August had to be filled by someone else when she refused to sign the oath.”

This is BS. It wasn’t Gonaver’s fault, as the CSU implies, but their own. The CSU system, and CSUF in particular, should be able to offer her another position. And the CSU system needs to implement the PFAW’s proposed policy change as well as get behind Alan Lowenthal’s effort to do way with the oath. Enough is enough.

Another CSU Teacher Fired over Loyalty Oath

This is getting ridiculous:

When Wendy Gonaver was offered a job teaching American studies at Cal State Fullerton this academic year, she was pleased to be headed back to the classroom to talk about one of her favorite themes: protecting constitutional freedoms.

But 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.”…

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.”

This comes on the heels of the firing – and reinstatement – of a CSU East Bay instructor who modified the oath – she too was a Quaker. The article in the LA Times does an excellent job of showing the background of the oath and the different ways it is treated in California higher ed – whereas the UC system advises signers of their rights to modify the oath to suit their religious needs, CSU campuses do not.

It suggests that there should be some sort of investigation of the CSU system, to see if there have been any directives that were sent from the central offices to campuses regarding strict – and illegal – interpretations of the oath.

All this demonstrates is how absurd this oath is. There is no good reason for it to remain as part of our state’s constitution – the Soviet Union is dead and buried and communism is barely clinging to life – literally and figuratively – in the few remaining outposts it has where it hasn’t morphed into neoliberalism.

Last month Alan Lowenthal authored a bill to drop the oath – to which the Yacht Party cried that the oath was necessary to guard against terrorist groups.

Perhaps someone should inform the Republicans – and the CSU system – that Quakers are not terrorists?!

Alan Lowenthal Steps Up on the Loyalty Oath

When we first brought you the story of the CSU East Bay teacher who was fired for refusing to sign the state’s antiquated loyalty oath (she later got her job back) I called for a legislator to “write a law to repeal this waste of paper.”

Yesterday’s Mercury News reports that State Sen. Alan Lowenthal has stepped up to the task:

The Long Beach Democrat has introduced a bill that would scrap statutes allowing teachers and other public employees to be fired for being members of the Communist Party.

The measure, scheduled to be considered Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee, also would drop a requirement that representatives of organizations seeking to use school facilities sign a form stating they do not have communist affiliations.

Lowenthal said the measure would drop old laws that were adopted at the height of the Red Scare following World War II and that have been found unconstitutional by the courts.

“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the threat between us and communism just isn’t there…,” he said in an interview. “They are not a danger to our liberty, and the courts have uniformly said that.”

It’s been nearly 20 years since Communism ceased to be a threat to the United States, and 60 years since the height of the Red Scare that produced the current version of the oath. It has absolutely no value or relevance to the present day, and even in the 1950s was really just a tool to remove politically incorrect educators from the UC system, as well as a political opportunity for Earl Warren’s reelection bid.

Even a member of the Yacht Party, Chuck DeVore, agrees with this – last year he proposed eliminating the anti-communist language from the oath, only to replace it with language allowing the firing of teachers who “support terrorist groups.” That last part is very slippery language indeed, as both “support” and “terrorist group” are so vague and undefined as to be a threat to civil liberties (and besides, there are numerous federal laws dealing with the matter).

Still, most California wingnuts are apoplectic at the very idea of rolling back their beloved McCarthyism:

But some conservative groups and bloggers have sharply criticized the measure, contending it would lead to the indoctrination of students.

“Less than 20 years after the fall of the communist Soviet Union, California lawmakers are eager to once again begin advancing a political ideology responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people,” Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Family Impact, said in a statement.

“Instead of promoting communism in our schools, lawmakers should be focused on actually teaching students to read, write and think for themselves.”

Right, because there are just SO many Communist teachers out there just waiting to turn their innocent young students into cadres for Raul Castro and Hu Jintao. But then again, if these wingnuts want to make these kinds of silly arguments, who am I to stop them? The more they expose themselves as so radical that they’ve lost touch with reality, the less Californians will listen to their ideas.

So kudos to Sen. Lowenthal for wanting to restore some sanity to state employment. As to groups like Capitol Resource Family Impact, don’t you have some more pressing concerns?

Loyalty Oath Teacher Reinstated by CSU East Bay

A few weeks back I brought you the story of the Quaker teacher who was fired by Cal State East Bay for altering the state’s ridiculous loyalty oath to conform to her religious beliefs. Today’s LA Times reports that she has happily won her job back – with help from her fellow teachers, her union, and even Attorney General Jerry Brown.

The university, averting a showdown over religious freedom, agreed to rehire Kearney-Brown after the office of state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown helped draft a statement declaring that the oath does not commit employees to bear arms in the country’s defense….

The firing of Kearney-Brown, who also is a graduate student at the campus, brought widespread criticism from faculty members, students, Quakers and civil-liberties advocates. Some faculty members began circulating a petition objecting to it. The United Auto Workers, which represents teaching assistants, pursued a grievance on Kearney-Brown’s behalf.

“People were outraged,” said Henry Reichman, a Cal State East Bay history professor and chairman of the Academic Senate. “I was very vocal on the campus that this was an outrageous thing.”

The ultimate resolution involved Kearney-Brown getting CSUEB to attach a document to her signed oath clarifying that the oath would not require her to take up arms to defend the state or the constitution, in conformance with her Quaker beliefs. Although the university resisted this, Jerry Brown’s office produced a document that read:

“You should know that signing the oath does not carry with it any obligation or requirement that public employees bear arms or otherwise engage in violence,” read the unsigned statement. “This has been confirmed by both the United States Supreme Court . . . and the California attorney general’s office.”

Although this particular story has a happy ending – and should set a precedent for others whose religious or personal beliefs would be violated by this ridiculous oath – it still raises the question of whether or not this ridiculous anachronism still has any place in California.

It also reminds us of the importance of unions in protecting not just wages and benefits, but civil liberties. Kearney-Brown, like most CSU TAs, is represented by UAW Local 4123. (Note: I was an organizer and steward in UAW Local 4121 at UW.) With her union on her side she had legal and political power, helping her get her job back within days. It also helped that our state Attorney General was willing to step in and defend her civil liberties, as opposed to trying to trample them like some other AGs we know.

Ultimately this reminds us of the importance of coalitions to protect civil liberties. Whether it’s a loyalty oath, FISA, or waterboarding, our basic rights must be supported and protected by the public. Once we start abandoning or refusing to defend the rights of others, we will quickly find we are losing our own.

Loyalty Oaths are SO 1950s

One of the most popular stories at SFGate today is about the Quaker who was fired from her job at CSU Hayward East Bay for changing the text of the required loyalty oath that all California public employees must sign as a condition of employment:

“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before – but had modified it each time….

Each time, when 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.

The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.

But Cal State East Bay wouldn’t, and she was fired on Thursday.

Unless we believe that Quakers are somehow America’s biggest threat, this should be seen as a totally ridiculous and anachronistic injustice. The loyalty oath – sometimes called the “Levering Oath” after the Republican legislator who rammed it through the state legislature in 1949-50 – was a particularly pernicious and pointless instance of McCarthyite hysteria. Republican Governor Earl Warren had initially opposed the oath, but when UC President Robert Sproul imposed the oath and fired 31 tenured professors who refused to sign it on grounds of academic freedom, Warren decided to support the oath to secure his 1950 reelection bid.

In short, the oath was created to further the political ambitions of Levering, Warren and Sproul. It did nothing to help California or the nation fight the Cold War, created deep and lasting divisions at UC, and is today seen as a rather silly piece of paper that folks sign as part of the usual fat packet of paper public workers have to sign upon accepting employment.

It’s been 59 years since the oath was created and 19 years since the Berlin Wall fell. Must we lose more qualified, dedicated, longtime teachers to this relic of the past? I know California legislators have better things to do, but if any of you politicians who are reading this site – and I know you’re out there – want to write a law to repeal this waste of paper, it would be welcome.