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Loyalty Oaths are SO 1950s

by: Robert Cruickshank

Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 17:06:47 PM PST

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.

Robert Cruickshank :: Loyalty Oaths are SO 1950s
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Is this Perata's district? (0.00 / 0)
If so there are a couple of legislators who should be all over this.  however, I think Heyward is actually in Corbett's district.  Either way, somebody needs to take care of this.

I think?

Yeah, it's in Corbett's district (0.00 / 0)

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wow (0.00 / 0)
This is mind-blowingly stupid. WTF?

I'm trying to remember if I had to sign some BS like this when I got at job as a TA at UC? Clearly the solemn-ness of it didn't really sink in if I can't even recall whether or not I signed one!

Wow. Just wow.

"Unless we believe that Quakers are somehow America's biggest threat..." Darkly hilarious summary, RiM.

You certainly did (8.00 / 1)
It was in the stack of papers you sign when you first get hired - alongside your W-4, your acknowledgment of the sexual harassment policy, etc. I had to sign one when I worked as a elementary school tutor through a UC program back in the late '90s, and again when I was hired to teach at a community college last year.

Both times I was tempted to not sign it and move on, as protest against the whole thing, but then thought "eh, don't wanna risk it" and did sign it. So the woman who got fired here had guts - she stood up for her religious beliefs, and lost her job because of it.

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quakers can affirm rather than swear in courts of law (8.00 / 2)
i think this teacher's got a pretty solid case if she takes it to court.

peronally, i always chuckled when i signed the oath, if just because i see the government as the most likely domestic enemy of the constitution, and raising hell as my "defense" of said constitution. it's a nice reminder of one's obligations to be a pain in the ass, really.

my reading of this case is that the teacher was defending the constitution by altering the oath. the oath itself is inconsistent with the constitution.

I Hate To Contradict You Robert, But... (0.00 / 0)
My understanding is that there were two oaths, and that Levering was overturned, while the earlier one survived--athough I'm not clear just why.  Levering required an affirmation that the signer didn't advocate overthrow of the government.

See, for example, this 1972 LA Times story:

A Teacher's 22-Year Exile Ends
ACLU's Eason Monroe, Fired on Loyalty Oath, to Return to S.F. State
BY AL MARTINEZ, Times Staff Writer

(reprinted from the L.A. Times, Tuesday, May 30, 1972)

Eason Monroe, a man with a deep commitment to personal freedom has begun to tidy up the details of his life for the trip home again.

It will not be a long journey, an hour by jet, and the details are not overwhelming.

They will involve ending a 20-year stewardship with the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles and flying north.

What makes the trip difficult is the psychological strain, overcoming the pain and the regret that going home entails.

For home is San Francisco State College, where he was fired 22 years ago on a question of conscience-when he refused to sign a loyalty oath.


A third-generation Californian, a Ph.D. from Stanford, a Navy veteran of World War II, Monroe was one day short of 40 when the state's Levering Act was passed requiring all public employees to sign a loyalty oath.

It was a time of crisis in America. The public feared Communist subversion and responded to the fear with strident demands for official confirmation of loyalty. It was the dawn of the McCarthy Era....

"I had never been politically involved. My parents had been Hoover Republicans. My career was on the rise. And then the ax fell."

The Levering Act, named for its author, the late Republican Assemblyman Harold K. Levering of Santa Monica, required public employees to affirm that they did not advocate overthrow of the government "by force or violence or other unlawful means."

Eight teachers at San Francisco State College refused to sign it. Monroe was one.

"You bet there was the agony of indecision." His voice trails off. "My wife Helen and I, and others on the teaching staff, talked about it for a month.

"I already had taken a positive oath to support the Constitution. It was still in effect. I had no objection to that, because I do support the Constitution.

"Then I was told to sign something that questioned my right to advocate. That was the key word. I had never advocated overthrow of the government, but I didn't like the idea of anyone limiting my right to advocate whatever I damn well pleased."

"I felt the two oaths were in utter contradiction. How can you swear to uphold the Constitution and thereafter sign away your rights under the Constitution?"


The Monroes, married since 1936, had two children. Mrs. Monroe had a small inheritance that carried them through for a while. Then a federation to repeal the loyalty oath was organized in the state, and Monroe was hired at $400 a month to head the drive.

His salary had plummeted from $12,000 to $4,800 a year.

A suit was filed and efforts were undertaken through the Legislature to repeal the Levering Act. Both failed. The anti-Communist mood of the nation swept them aside.

The loyalty oath was upheld by the state Supreme Court in October 1952, and a month later the same court refused to review its decision.

The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court similarly dismissed a challenge to the Levering Act, ruling there was no substantial federal question.

The antioath federation meanwhile, had collapsed under a tidal wave of public sentiment, and in July 1952 capitalizing on previous contacts, Monroe had become executive director of the Southern California ACLU....

"The organization back then disliked being involved at the trial level," Monroe recalls. "It preferred an Olympian stance, a lofty and detached approach."

"But it became obvious that this was an ineffective way to protect individual freedom."

"You can't sit up there on Olympus and choose your fights. You must get down on the level of the battle and engage yourself."

Monroe Philosophy

Monroe's philosophy, forged in the fire of bitter personal experience, was that any organization dedicated to defending a person's rights and liberties must defend them every time they were jeopardized.

He imposed that belief on the ACLU at. a volatile juncture in history.

The organization became critically involved in questions of patriotism, school integration and religious freedom, at a time when mere mention of them could trigger a disturbance.

He was arrested once, at a youth rally protesting curfews on Sunset Strip (a charge of interfering with a policeman was dropped), and was criticized many times--in person, on the telephone and through the mail.

Los Angeles Police Chief Edward Davis told Monroe in effect to mind his own business and Sheriff Peter Pitches suggested he resign or be fired.

He smiles now at the invectives hurled across the years. "I can't recall the number of times I have been told to 'go back where you came from' -- meaning, one assumes, Russia. If they only knew I came from a little Sierra sawmill town called Loyalton. Go back to Loyalton?"


Even through his successful tenure as executive director of the ACLU, Monroe never abandoned the hope that vindication would eventually come, and that he would return to teaching.

In the mid-60s it began to appear that the loyalty oath trend in America was being reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down oaths in Arizona, New York, Maryland, Florida and Washington.

Monroe observed the irony of Earl Warren, who he believes, as governor, had accepted the loyalty oaths for political expediency, later presiding as U.S. chief justice over their national demise.

The ACLU filed against the state oath, and in 1967 the California Supreme Court ruled the oath invalid. Monroe moved immediately for reinstatement at San Francisco State.

"I don't know that I actually wanted to return to State," he says. "But I wanted to test whether or not there was redress for any of us who had refused to sign the oath."

Last December, the state Supreme Court ruled 6 to 1 that Monroe should be rehired by the college.

Ah. (0.00 / 0)
It had been my understanding that the 1967 decision tossed part of the Levering Oath but not all of it. I know CA has had some form of loyalty oaths going back to the Civil War, but that the current form in question here dates, particularly in language, to the Cold War. Unfortunately none of the books on my shelf deal with this in any more detail, but I'll look into it and see what's up.

By the way, excellent diary at OpenLeft on the topic.

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