loyalty oath

Speaking of weirdly retrograde discourse, did you know that the state of California requires public university employees (including faculty) to sign a “loyalty oath?” Among the personnel paperwork I got from SFSU was a form asking me to put my John Hancock to this:

“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.”

This, of course, is a hold over from the days of McCarthyism, a back-handed attempt to ferret out communists (“back-handed” because it doesn’t take the more direct route of asking you to say “I am not a communist”). I actually agonized for a while about whether to sign the thing, for a number of reasons:

  1. I’m a Quaker, and Quakers have historically objected to the taking of oaths. Our thinking is that there shouldn’t be two standards of truth–one for everyday discourse, and one for oath-taking. That is, you ought to tell the truth whether your hand is on a bible or not.
  2. Quakers also don’t believe in war. I’m not willing to sign on to “support and defend” one, let alone two constitutions if it involves violence against others.
  3. There’s something awfully absurd (and funny) about the idea of university faculty taking up arms to defend the constitution. Does that tweed sportcoat come in camouflage?
  4. Whoever wrote this oath probably didn’t really have armed professors in mind, but it’s likely that they imagined using it to force “loyal” faculty to name names. I’ve got a problem with that, too.
  5. Who decides who these “enemies” are? My sense is that the constitution could use some defending against some of the people currently occupying the White House.
  6. It’s essentially unenforceable.

This last, in my book, isn’t really a knock against it. In fact, it’s pretty much why I went ahead and signed the thing, despite these objections. That, and that parenthetical “affirm” (as opposed to “swear”) made me feel like I could sign my name without compromising too much. I also didn’t want to make a big fuss about it.

However, I learned just this week that the Cal State system has begun allowing employees to attach an addendum to the loyalty oath that registers these sorts of objections. A lecturer at CSUF, who had lost her job because she refused to sign (she was a Quaker, by the way), recently got her job back because of this. There’s an article in Inside Higher Ed about the case. So, even though I already signed mine, I’m going to try to get an addendum added to my personnel file, just so everyone’s clear about what I’m agreeing to.

Just to be clear: I do not object to the oath because I’ve got a problem with loyalty as such. At the end of the day, I’m comfortable saying (but not swearing) that I would support and defend (nonviolently) this country and its form of government, however imperfect. In the larger scheme of things, the fact that we’ve got such a process for negotiating the needs of conscience (however belated, in this case) suggests that this is a place worth preserving.


3 thoughts on “loyalty oath

  1. This is an interesting free speech issue. What kinds of things are you going to put in your addendum?

  2. Good question. I’m not sure, yet. Here’s what Wendy Gonaver, the CSUF lecturer, wrote:

    “I support and respect the United States Constitution and the California Constitution, and I fully intend to abide by the oath that I have been required to sign as a condition of my employment by California State University (“CSU”). As an American, I do object, however, to being compelled to sign such an oath, and want to state my belief that such compulsion violates my right to freedom of speech. And, as a Quaker, in order to sign the oath in good conscience, I must also state that I do not promise or undertake to bear arms or otherwise engage in violence, and I have been assured by CSU that my oath will not be construed to require me to do so.”

    I’m guessing she had to run this language through university counsel before doing this. Another person was apparently fired for writing in the word “nonviolently” on the oath itself.

  3. That stupid oath is such a ridiculous holdover from McCarthy. Something needs to be done about it, seriously.


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