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.
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.”
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.