Another Stupid Controversy

Fired for refusing to sign a 50’s era loyalty oath:

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.”

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.

This is, no doubt, another one of those things that will have people bitching back and forth at each other, and I really have to say I am sick of this sort of nonsense. I don’t even understand the purpose of a loyalty oath to begin with- if your goal is to subvert the government of the United States, you are going to have no problem lying about it before hand. Additionally, if your goal is to bring down the government, I would suggest there are more effective ways than planting sleeper cell agents in American studies classrooms across the country- WE WILL DEFEAT THE GREAT SATAN WITH BAD PEDAGOGY AND HARSH RHETORIC! Seems to me to be a bit of a stretch.

Just so much stupid out there.






31 replies
  1. 1
    hmd says:

    You misunderstand the purpose of the loyalty oath. It isn’t meant to catch people who fail to take the oath. It is simply meant to encourage an atmosphere of enforced loyalty. Those people who take the loyalty oath more seriously are encouraged to be on the lookout for those who don’t – maybe report them to the authorities, you know the drill.

    Very totalitarian, really.

  2. 2
    El Cid says:

    I fear we may have a traitor in our midst since he’s so willing to question our own loyalties. John Cole, you are being watched. Unless you swear your proper loyalties and vow to pursue Graeme Frost at all costs.

  3. 3
    MobiusKlein says:

    It’s even worse than you think.

    In college (UCSB) I had a temp job to help move other students into the dorm. In order to get paid, I had to sign the same loyalty oath.

    Heavens, we wouldn’t want a disloyal, wrong thinking porter working for the government.

  4. 4
    cleek says:

    but there’s a Giant Underground Leftist Conspiracy to teach children the wrong things about America! just you wait, in 10 years, they’ll start implementing the Great IslamoHomoCommieShariaFascist AgendaPlan that they were all taught in school, and then it’ll be burkas and homosexual abortions for everybody but the Volvo-driving latte-sipping East Cost Liberal elitists, who will all have fled to France.

    you see, it’s downright terrifying when black people believe in giant conspiracies to harm them. but it’s quaint and commonplace when white conservative paranoids have their own conspiracies. and when they enact legislation to protect themselves against their own imagination, it’s merely shrugworthy.

    i can has dual standards?

  5. 5
    Dennis - SGMM says:

    Shit, if they really want to test someone’s loyalty to the State of California they need only ask if the applicant will take the time to read the Preamble plus all thirty-five Articles of the California State Constitution. I seriously doubt that those who administer the oath and those who do swear to it have any idea of what they’ve sworn to uphold and defend.

    I’d be surprised if one in 200,000 Californians have read the state constitution. I would also be surprised if one in 100,000 Americans had read their own Constitution.

  6. 6
    demimondian says:

    Even worse — imagine being required to sign the loyalty oath in order to apply for an NSF postdoctoral grant.

    I was almost tempted to ask the administrator, “Let me ask you a question. I’m one of the rising stars in my field. Don’t you think that I could be guaranteed a plush lifestyle in the Soviet Union if I wanted it? Couldn’t I go to work for some multinational for many times this much, working for no good purpose at all? Why on Earth would I accept the pittance that this grant will yield me if I didn’t love this country? Why am I being humiliated this way?”

    It made no sense then, and makes even less sense now.

  7. 7
    zeppo says:

    I dunno…. I was terribly, terribly scarred in college by my professor that taught Differential Equations. And the one teaching Modern Physics was evern worse! I shall never recover from that hideous experience. They should all be dragged from the classroom, in handcuffs and leg irons if necessary.

    Imagine, trying to impose disciplined thinking and logic on students.

  8. 8
    mellowjohn says:

    for a truly entertaining take on the absurdity of loyalty oaths (as well as the absurdity of a great many other things), be sure to read catch-22.

  9. 9
    jake says:

    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.

    I’m surprised BushCo allows this.

  10. 10
    Sarcastro says:

    The office of Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown…

    Doesn’t he always smile and never frown?

    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.

    OK, so to get a job in the California school systems I’d have to shoot a whole bunch of politicians? I’d be perjuring myself were I not to take up arms against a large proportion of our elected officials after signing such an oath.

  11. 11
    ThymeZone says:

    You misunderstand the purpose of the loyalty oath. It isn’t meant to catch people who fail to take the oath. It is simply meant to encourage an atmosphere of enforced loyalty.

    Precisely.

    The same principle works for a Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, flag pins on lapels, prayer in schools.

    It’s all about power and control, nothing more, or less.

  12. 12
    Svensker says:

    Quakers are not allowed to take oaths, on religious reasons (having nothing to do with pacifism), because of the Quaker interpretation of the Bible’s injunction against swearing. Assuming Cal State Fullerton is a government organization, she should be able to sue on religious discrimination grounds.

    This definitely sounds like a case for the ACLU. (Besides being stupid and Nazi-like anyway.)

  13. 13
    Paul says:

    I’d be surprised if one in 200,000 Californians have read the state constitution. I would also be surprised if one in 100,000 Americans had read their own Constitution.

    I think the Californian (or any state, really) figure might be a lowball–state constitutions rarely have the terseness and historical impact of the US Constitution. I admit to having never read any of the State Constitutions in any state I have lived in–but perhaps I should remedy that.

    I was required in High School not only to read the US Constitution but had a rather difficult test on it as I recall.

  14. 14

    Wait, she’s a Christian and refusing to sign an oath? But she’s a traitor, and that means she’s a liberal! Liberals aren’t religious! Waitagoddamminute… as a Christian I can’t pledge loyalty to our nation? Fuck, I’m so confused!

  15. 15
    Zuzu says:

    The most famous loyalty oath story was the brouhaha caused in the ’70s when Jessica Mitford refused to sign when hired to teach at San Jose State. She had some pretty witty insights that still bring a smile:

    Well (said I to the deans), I think I have done my best to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies, especially domestic; but the annotated Constitution of the State of California runs to three hefty volumes and covers all manner of subjects. Do I uphold and defend, for example, Article 4, Section 25 3/4, limiting championship boxing and wrestling matches to 15 rounds? I don’t know. Perhaps it should be 14, or 16? I do know that I cannot uphold and defend the recent amendment reinstating the death penalty, which in my view runs counter to the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Nor can I uphold and defend the section requiring the loyalty oath, which I regard as an abridgment of First Amendment rights. But (said they) you must sign if you want to work here, it’s the law. What if I strike out the words “freely and without any mental reservation” and substitute “under duress”? No, that won’t do, you can’t tamper with the oath. Then…you are requiring me to swear falsely as a condition of employment?

    The section of the Penal Code giving the penalty for perjury, one to fourteen years in state prison, is printed right above the oath. But the same Penal Code would seem to contain an equally stiff caveat for university administrators who require employees to perjure themselves as a condition of employment: subornation of perjury also carries a penalty of one to fourteen years in stir. What, then, if we all end up behind bars as a consequence of my signing? Will it be a race between me and the administrators to see who is rehabilitated first?

    The Atlantic

    She eventually signed “under duress” but dug in her heels at the fingerprinting requirement. She eventually prevailed in court, as I recall.

    Broke the mold with that woman, they did.

  16. 16
    Zuzu says:

    It’s all about power and control, nothing more, or less.

    It actually used to be worse. You also had to swear that you weren’t and hadn’t for a long time been a member of one of them sub-versive (you know who we mean) groups. Got tossed by a court, so it doesn’t appear in the oath people sign, but it’s still there in the constitution:

    Sec., 3, Art. XX, Cal. Const.

  17. 17
    Cyrus says:

    mellowjohn Says:
    for a truly entertaining take on the absurdity of loyalty oaths (as well as the absurdity of a great many other things), be sure to read catch-22.

    We should have a poll. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22: documentary or prophesy?

  18. 18

    […] “Just so much stupid out there.” May 2, 2008 — Ned Raggett John’s put this at the end of a Balloon Juice post today about the loyalty oath flare-up out here — I remember having to do this when I first worked at a public library back in 1988 — and his sentiment kinda describes my week on the political front. There’s very little to say that doesn’t make me shrug and look around a bit and want to think about other things (which I’ve been doing a lot of — I think I wrote something like two longer articles and a slew of reviews this week, not to mention the various blog posts and so forth). […]

  19. 19
    Kevin says:

    Doesn’t he always smile and never frown?

    Watch it, or the suede/denim secret police will come for you, and your uncool niece.

  20. 20
    John S. says:

    Quakers are not allowed to take oaths, on religious reasons (having nothing to do with pacifism), because of the Quaker interpretation of the Bible’s injunction against swearing.

    As are Jehovah’s Witnesses, though for different reasons. Mainly because they see their allegiance as being to G-d and nothing else. This has made them a target since they have existed – Hitler sent thousands to their deaths in concentration camps.

    My parents converted when I was born, so I was raised with this. I never said the pledge of allegiance in school. I never took the Boy Scoat oath. And nobody ever persecuted me for it. But then again, I grew up in the 80s, so I shudder to think how I would have fared today.

  21. 21
    qwerty42 says:

    This is usually made into a requirement by the state legislature; then they won’t undo it by dropping the rule (because it provokes a great showy fight that they’d usually rather save for something more important, though who knows). so the college bureaucracy has to enforce it (can’t wink at the rules). If they can find a way to avoid it they usually will (I had to sign one for some $$$, later i had to do it again, then they found I’d already done it for a prev job a few years before so they said it wasn’t necessary). The list of organizations they used was absurd — came from HUAC in the 50’s and had the names of communist and fascist front organizations from the 30’s. Joseph Heller made fun of some of this stuff in Catch-22.

  22. 22
    nightjar says:

    I simply oppose the notion that the government should be in the business of deciding how much profit is “too much.” In addition, unless someone can explain to me how I am wrong, I fail to see how a tax on the price of oil over a certain price won’t simply be passed on to consumers anyway.

    The last time I heard that read up close, I got a really short haircut and an automatic weapon.

  23. 23
    nightjar says:

    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.

    The last time I heard that read up close, I got a really short haircut and an automatic weapon.

    computer holiday for me. sorry again

  24. 24

    […] be warned that I will throw heavy anthologies at them if they endanger my beloved constitution. Sphere: Related Content Previous Posts More on the OathQuestion […]

  25. 25
    Martin says:

    Read up on the UC loyalty oath crisis from back in the day. Here’s a good starting point. It did real damage to the UC campuses (only UCLA and Berkeley at the time – the others didn’t roll in until the mid-60s.) Hundreds of people lost their jobs and were fairly efficiently blacklisted from employment at universities around the nation.

    My parents converted when I was born, so I was raised with this. I never said the pledge of allegiance in school. I never took the Boy Scoat oath. And nobody ever persecuted me for it. But then again, I grew up in the 80s, so I shudder to think how I would have fared today.

    The Jehovahs Witnesses sued over laws requiring the pledge to be recited in schools. The public backlash was pretty harsh and many meeting houses were burned in retaliation. They never really had a chance of recovering their reputation after that. My strongest policy issue with the MUP is that he wants to require the pledge for kids in public schools, which I strenuously oppose. He’ll be getting letters… :)

    As for scouts, you could get through cub scouts without the pledge with a favorable council but not boy scouts now. The Church of Latter Day Saints is the principle sponsor of the scouts now and after the atheist kids sued over the pledge, they’ve been cracking down harder. Granted, they were in my son’s council so there’s a special sensitivity to it here. But I’ve heard from scouts outside the area that they’re holding on tight to the pledge. My son probably won’t be going onto Boy Scouts – the stress over the pledge and the religious stuff is too much. He was willing to do the religion module through my wife’s U/U church but they’ve disqualified U/U as a religious institution because they won’t back the ‘homosexuality/atheism is evil’ stance in their stuff.

    If he does decide to go into Boy Scouts, I’m expecting we’ll toss another lawsuit out there. Nobody has sued over the oath using the scouts congressional charter as a rationale. Scouting is a monopoly by charter of congress, so there is no ability of other scouting groups to fill in for those kids excluded by BSA.

  26. 26
    Zuzu says:

    Bum link fixed here:

    Sec. 3, Art. XX, Cal. Const.

  27. 27
    John S. says:

    My strongest policy issue with the MUP is that he wants to require the pledge for kids in public schools, which I strenuously oppose.

    Though I have long since ceased to be a practicing Jehovahs Witness (though many in family still are), I agree with you here. That is a very bad idea.

    As for scouts, you could get through cub scouts without the pledge with a favorable council but not boy scouts now.

    That’s a real shame. I enjoyed the scouts growing up, and I had hoped my son would be able to participate one day. But not if it is as you have described.

  28. 28
    LiberalTarian says:

    Huh. I don’t recall a loyalty oath, but I do recall promising to fork over all intellectual property interest in anything or process I might invent.

    Do you have any idea how many people produce work that UC then patents?

    Ignorance is bliss (for those who know).

  29. 29
    john b says:

    as one who was an agnostic in boy scouts until 2000 (i know, i’m young), i can say that it really just depends on the troop you’re in. if you want to make a big stink about stuff and start suing from the get-go, then sure you’re not going to be well-liked by your (son’s) troop. but aside from the pledge and the scout oath (both with references to god), there was really very little religious stuff forced upon us. the troop i was in was loosely judeo-christian. we had jewish and christian leaders and members who were of all faiths/lack of faith.

    i assume there are religious troops out there who treat their meetings as another form of sunday school with camping, but that was in no way my experience. and there was NEVER any homophobic things done (and there were a few gay members of my troop)

  30. 30
    Jerry Jones says:

    LATimes reporter Richard Paddock typically fails to mention the 1994 “loyalty oath” lawsuit in which Fresno City College was court-ordered to pay a mother-daughter pair of Jehovah’s Witness job applicants $259,000.00.

    To read what the LA Times doesn’t tell you, go to the following website which summarizes over 500 Jehovah’s Witnesses Employment related lawsuits, etc,:

    EMPLOYMENT ISSUES UNIQUE TO JEHOVAH’S WITNESS EMPLOYEES

    http://jwemployees.bravehost.com

  31. 31
    b. hussein canuckistani says:

    We should have a poll. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22: documentary or prophesy?

    What’s wrong with both?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] be warned that I will throw heavy anthologies at them if they endanger my beloved constitution. Sphere: Related Content Previous Posts More on the OathQuestion […]

  2. […] “Just so much stupid out there.” May 2, 2008 — Ned Raggett John’s put this at the end of a Balloon Juice post today about the loyalty oath flare-up out here — I remember having to do this when I first worked at a public library back in 1988 — and his sentiment kinda describes my week on the political front. There’s very little to say that doesn’t make me shrug and look around a bit and want to think about other things (which I’ve been doing a lot of — I think I wrote something like two longer articles and a slew of reviews this week, not to mention the various blog posts and so forth). […]

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