Calif. Professor Fired for Rejecting Loyalty Oath California still requires public employees to swear a patriotic oath that hasn't been updated since the 1950s. The pledge was designed to keep Communist influence out of government jobs. Now it's blocking decidedly innocuous job candidates, like Quakers and pacifists, from employment.


Calif. Professor Fired for Rejecting Loyalty Oath

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Now a professor here in California has lost her job because she refused to sign one of those Cold-War-era loyalty oaths. The life-long pacifist isn't the only one. Over the years, several other aspiring public employees in California have been fired for doing the same thing. From member-station KQED, Rob Schmitz reports.

ROB SCHMITZ: Sitting in a room full of new hires, Gonaver listened to the orientation leader tell them they were required to sign the state's loyalty oath.

WENDY GONAVER: She asked, at one point, any questions? And I raised my hand, and I said, well, what kind of exceptions do you make for religious minorities? She said none. And I just blurted out: I can't sign the oath. And then there was kind of a hush in the room with people looking at me, and I felt very - kind of uncomfortable.

SCHMITZ: Gonaver is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies, and she knows the U.S. Constitution inside and out. She says forcing employees to sign an oath to defend the constitution is, well, unconstitutional. But Gonaver's rejection went beyond her role as a constitutional scholar. As a practicing Quaker and pacifist, Gonaver says she could not sign an oath requiring her to, quote, "Defend the U.S. and state constitutions against enemies foreign and domestic."

GONAVER: The combination of the word defend with enemies seems to me to be a statement in favor of a military defense, even if you, yourself, aren't participating in it.

SCHMITZ: Gonaver offered to sign the oath, as long as she could include an attachment expressing her opinion that the oath violated her First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and speech. Officials at California State University rejected that, and Gonaver was out of a job. In a statement to NPR, CSU spokeswoman Clara Potes-Fellow said CSU must follow the state law that says all employees are required to sign the oath, and because Gonaver's addendum negated the oath, CSU was forced to fire her.

JACOB APPELSMITH: We work with them, we meet and confer with them, and we try to work out whatever issues they have so that they can sign it.

SCHMITZ: Appelsmith says nowadays, the oath should not be interpreted as a call to arms, rather an agreement to abide by the laws of state and country.

APPELSMITH: If someone wants to specify that they cannot engage in acts of physical violence, that's fine.

SCHMITZ: Take Bud Tillinghast, for example. In 1994, Humboldt State University gave the Methodist minister 30 days to sign the oath. He refused. On the 31st day, he was in the middle of teaching a class on world religion.

BUD TILLINGHAST: It ended up where I was escorted from the classroom by a couple of campus police because I wouldn't sign the loyalty oath.

SCHMITZ: Currently, almost all 2.3 million public employees in California are required to sign the oath, as long as they're U.S. citizens, no matter what kind of job they have. When Lynn Fumee(ph) wanted to volunteer for the botanic gardens at University of California, Riverside, she discovered she had to sign the oath, too.

LYNN FUMEE: I remember asking the director, I said really? You really make people sign this so that they can pull weeds?

SCHMITZ: Since you've been pulling weeds, have any enemies, foreign or domestic, approached you?


FUMEE: No. It was funny, because my first thought when I was reading it - one of my thoughts was all of us up there with our little trowels defending the botanic gardens against some kind of, you know, invading presence. So on the one hand, I was sort of laughing. It seemed so absurd. And on the other hand, I thought it was sort of offensive.

SCHMITZ: In the end, says Fumee, she decided to sign it, deciding the whole thing was rather silly. That's not the conclusion that Wendy Gonaver and her lawyers reached. They think this is a serious constitutional issue that needs to be resolved. They've been in talks with CSU officials on a compromise. They say they're hopeful Gonaver will soon win her job back. For NPR News, I'm Rob Schmitz in Los Angeles.

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