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Professor Refuses to Sign Loyalty Oath

A pacifist Quaker professor was refused a job because she refused to sign a loyalty oath pledging to defend the Constitution.

Wendy Gonaver Photo 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.

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.”

Me, too.

Not so much because of the abject stupidity and violation of academic freedom cited by John Cole and Fontana Labs, although those factors are surely there. But why on earth are college professors being asked to take oaths that they couldn’t possibly be called on to carry out?

I swore to protect the Constitution from its enemies three times — upon matriculating as a cadet, upon enlisting in the Army Reserve, and upon commissioning — and actually deployed to a combat zone pursuant to that oath. Several times in the ensuing years, I also signed contracts to teach at various colleges and universities. None of them asked to to sign any oaths and I’d have laughed at them if they had.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. [...] James Joyner weighs in:I swore to protect the Constitution from its enemies three times — upon matriculating [...]

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  2. Beldar says:

    She’ll find very good, highly motivated counsel willing to take her case on a pro bono basis, and the other side will capitulate before the first substantive court hearing. That’s as it should be.

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  3. Christopher says:

    Well, James, what’s more silly: requiring the oath, or her refusing to sign it?

    Certainly as a military or intelligence member we would want such a statement signed. But how in this case would it ever effect her in the least, legally or physically? Sounds like she is merely after attention. And this from a religious pacifist! lol

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  4. James Joyner says:

    Sounds like she is merely after attention.

    Maybe she just takes swearing (or affirming, as would be the case here) oaths seriously? The military oath that I took included swearing “that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” Perhaps her conscience forbade her taking a coerced oath to which she had mental reservations, let alone signing it with the purpose of evasion?

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  5. James Joyner says:

    That’s as it should be.

    Agreed. You’d think a law this old would have been litigated by now but apparently not.

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  6. anjin-san says:

    She’ll find very good, highly motivated counsel willing to take her case on a pro bono basis, and the other side will capitulate before the first substantive court hearing. That’s as it should be.

    Well said. There is something very Soviet about these types of oaths in a civilian setting. It is one thing for someone in the military or law enforcement, but education?

    Of course the real stupidity of this is that an actual enemy of our country would happily swear to all sorts of oaths to maintain their cover…

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  7. Dunk says:

    She’s hot.

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  8. Bithead says:

    Not so much because of the abject stupidity and violation of academic freedom cited by John Cole and Fontana Labs, although those factors are surely there. But why on earth are college professors being asked to take oaths that they couldn’t possibly be called on to carry out?

    I’d not be so quick on this one, James.
    I’d argue that teachers are the first line of defense, by means of what they teach.

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  9. Zara says:

    She absolutely should not be fired for refusing to sign a loyalty oath — but she should be fired for that ridiculous “I am a saintly victim” photograph. Unbearable.

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  10. Michael says:

    I’d argue that teachers are the first line of defense, by means of what they teach.

    You could argue it, but you’d be wrong.

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  11. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the flag salute.

    I was born into the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1957.I was the good little JW boy who got beaten up in the school yard for not saluting the flag and remaining seated for the Star Spangled Banner as demanded by my Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders.
    This was the ‘better dead than red’ era of the 1960’s, I suffered much,only to learn that the Watchtower corporation is just another made up man-made religion and not the true one.
    Kids suffer because of arbitrary rules by Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders,senile old men squatting in their insulated ivory tower.
    I now proudly fly the Flag at my home

    The ‘religion’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a dangerous cult that controls every aspect of its members’ lives.

    Are they knocking on your door?
    —-
    Danny Haszard

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  12. James Joyner says:

    I would normally delete the barely-related Jehovah’s Witness diatribe as spam. But, even if all that is true, can we agree that beating up little kids for following their religious beliefs and refusing to salute the flag is a bad thing?

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  13. DL says:

    The real problem is how does one defend the constitution when it’s been massecred by the left and several presidents (including GOP) for decades. Half of our polititians don’t appear to know what it says, and the other half apparently don’t care what it says. Even GOP McCainiacs could care about defending core “principles” which is what the Constitution has codified. Bush and many in DC have no problem taking the oath and then ignored the border laws it included through implication. Our judges, schooled as they are in case law instead of constitutional law, have created through “immanations or penumbras” the right to murder unborn citizens without half the legal rights of the spotted owl.

    At one time, I would have been horrified by a refusal to take an oath to the constitution. Now I have to wonder, why bother, it’s just something for fouth grade teachers to use in order to pass time teaching. Cnynical? You bet!

    a living document”

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  14. DA says:

    I had to sign such a thing in order to teach when I was a postdoc in New York. For an example of the New York oath, see for instance
    http://cwis.colgate.edu/fachandbook/regs.html
    and search the page for “oath” or just scroll down.

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  15. William d'Inger says:

    I believe the courts ought to decide if the law is valid, but in the meantime, I have no problem with the school following the law. In fact, I would have a problem if they ignoreed it.

    The article says the woman is pushing 40. Who’s the teenie bopper in the picture doing her best sad puppy impersonation?

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  16. Bithead says:

    You could argue it, but you’d be wrong.

    Demonstrate, please.

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  17. Steve Plunk says:

    What shocks me is that the college professors in California haven’t changed this law already. If they all sign it then certainly they are aware it.

    I’m a believer that out loyalty is implied and does need to be affirmed by such statements.

    The simple answer is to just get it changed.

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  18. Michael says:

    Our judges, schooled as they are in case law instead of constitutional law, have created through “immanations or penumbras” the right to murder unborn citizens without half the legal rights of the spotted owl.

    Not to detract from your point, but they’re not technically citizens until birth.

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  19. Michael says:

    I’d argue that teachers are the first line of defense, by means of what they teach.

    Because teaching is about conveying unmolested knowledge. If teachers had to filter everything they teach though a “defend the constitution” test, then students are being cheated of knowledge. Examples:

    Should a History teacher not show that the constitution has been repeatedly violated, often to the benefit of our country?

    Should a Philosophy teacher tailor their instructions so as not to question the correctness of the constitution?

    Should a Law or Politicial Science teacher not teach about loopholes and ways to work around the constitution?

    Should our teachers be tasked with uplifting the constitution? Barred from telling students to question it? Or should they just give their students all knowledge that is available to give them?

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  20. Bithead says:

    I’m a believer that out loyalty is implied and does need to be affirmed by such statements.

    Fly in the grape juice: Barrack Obama.

    Because teaching is about conveying unmolested knowledge. If teachers had to filter everything they teach though a “defend the constitution” test, then students are being cheated of knowledge

    Which assumes that the Constitution isn’t defensible by means of truth. You do know better, don’t you?

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  21. Michael says:

    Which assumes that the Constitution isn’t defensible by means of truth. You do know better, don’t you?

    No, it assumes that the Constitution can be attacked by means of truth.

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  22. Anderson says:

    Bithead gets to the right of Beldar?

    I need a drink.

    And yes, she is (1) legally aggrieved and (2) hot.

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