Saturday, March 01, 2008

In California, being a Friend can get you fired.

Just so you know. In case, you know, you actually want to put your faith into practice

(San Francisco Chronicle) Feb. 29 - California State University East Bay has
fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word “nonviolently” in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before - but had modified it each time.

She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in
Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high
[I have done this here in The Garden State, without any hassle.]

Each time, when asked to “swear (or affirm)” that she would “support and defend” the U.S. and state Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote “nonviolently” in front of the word “support,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.” All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said.

The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.

But Cal State East Bay wouldn’t, and she was fired on Thursday.

Modifying the oath “is very clearly not permissible,” the university’s attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. “It’s an unfortunate situation. If she’d just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment.” [Right. “If she’d only been a good little mind-numbed robot…”]

Modifying oaths is open to different legal interpretations. Without commenting on the specific situation, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown said that “as a general matter, oaths may be modified to conform with individual values.” For example, court oaths may be modified so that atheists don’t have to refer to a deity, said spokesman Gareth Lacy. [Hello, Earth to Jerry: Mr. Brown, you used to be a “liberal…” Want to make a call here?]

Kearney-Brown said she could not sign an oath that, to her, suggested she was agreeing to take up arms in defense of the country.

"I honor the Constitution, and I support the Constitution,” she said. “But I want it on record that I defend it nonviolently.”

The trouble began Jan. 17, a little more than a week after she started teaching at the Hayward campus. Filling out her paperwork, she drew an asterisk on the oath next to the word “defend.” She wrote: “As long as it doesn’t require violence.”

The secretary showed the amended oath to a supervisor, who said it was unacceptable, Kearney-Brown recalled.

Shortly after receiving her first paycheck, Kearney-Brown was told to come back and sign the oath.

This time, Kearney-Brown inserted “nonviolently,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.”

That’s when the university sought legal advice. [Methinks they'll be a-needin' some more soon...]

“Based on the advice of counsel, we cannot permit attachments or addenda that are incompatible and inconsistent with the oath,” the campus’ human resources manager, JoAnne Hill, wrote to Kearney-Brown.

She cited a 1968 case called Smith vs. County Engineer of San Diego. In that suit, a state appellate court ruled that a man being considered for public employment could not amend the oath to declare: his “supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ Whom Almighty God has appointed ruler of Nations, and expressing my dissent from the failure of the Constitution to recognize Christ and to acknowledge the Divine institution of civil government.” The court called it “a gratuitous injection of the applicant’s religious beliefs into the governmental process.” [Wow! I’ve never heard of such a thing! Have you?]

But Hill said Kearney-Brown could sign the oath and add a separate note to her personal file that expressed her views.

Kearney-Brown declined. “To me it just wasn’t the same. I take the oath seriously, and if I’m going to sign it, I’m going to do it nonviolently.”

Then came the warning.

“Please understand that this issue needs to be resolved no later than Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, or you will not be allowed to continue to work for the university,” Hill wrote.

The deadline was then extended to Wednesday and she was fired on Thursday.

“I was kind of stunned,” said Kearney-Brown, who is pursuing her master’s degree in math to earn the credentials to do exactly the job she is being fired from.

“I was born to do this,” she said. “I teach developmental math, the lowest level. The kids who are conditionally accepted to the university. Give me the kids who hate math - that’s what I want.”

(Snarky comments and emphasis all mine.) Loyalty oaths should have gone out of fashion when Joe McCarthy was run out of Washington, DC, back in the 1950s. And, last time I checked, this handy little chestnut was still part of the Bill of Rights (the part that pertains here is emphasized, just in case, you know, they forgot):

Amendment I:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Quakers do not swear oaths. This is part of our religious practice going back to the very founding of the Religious Society of Friends. It’s why I personally don’t say the Pledge, amongst other things. From Wikipedia:

Various religious groups have objected to the taking of oaths, most notably the Quakers and the Mennonites. This is principally based on the words of Christ in the Antithesis of the Law, “I say to you: ‘Swear not at all’”. The Apostle James stated, “Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.” Not all Christians follow this reading, because of the statements in the Old Testament. Jews also avoid taking oaths, as even making an unintentionally false oath would violate a Biblical commandment (see Leviticus 19:12).

Opposition to oath-taking caused many problems for these groups throughout their history. Quakers were frequently imprisoned because of their refusal to swear loyalty oaths. Testifying in court was also difficult. George Fox famously challenged a judge who had asked him to swear, saying that he would do so once the judge could point to any Bible passage where Jesus or his apostles took oaths. (The judge could not, but this did not allow Fox to escape punishment.) Legal reforms from the 18th century onwards mean that everyone in the United Kingdom now has the right to make a solemn affirmation instead of an oath. The United States has permitted affirmations since it was founded; it is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Only two US Presidents, Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover, have chosen to affirm rather than swear at their inaugurations…

So I guess they’d have to fire two former Presidents, too… And me.

Would, or will, this university demand that all Catholic instructors remove the crucifixes from around their throats? That all Jewish males on campus remove their yarmulkes? That any Muslim females take off their hijabs? This is discrimination, plain and simple.

This is also why we have an ACLU, and why, in this “post-9/11 world,” chock full of phony baloney plastic patriotism and jerky, car-magnet jingoists, we still need one.

Here’s a deal for you: California American Civil Liberies Union, take this Friend’s case, and I’ll renew my lapsed membership. Today. Seems to me this is an easy win.

And if you’re so inclined (I am, and I did), you can contact the Office of Public Affairs for this fine, tolerant institution, a so-called university that prides itself (and advertises itself) as being “academically rich”… “multicultural”… “socially responsible”… “open-minded”… “welcoming”… “inclusive” here. Just be polite. That’s how Friends are supposed to act.

(H/t for the head’s up on this to Blue Gal, ‘natch.)

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