Loyalty to State; Loyalty to Religion

A story from Inside Higher Ed describes a math instructor whose employment was terminated because she did not endorse a loyalty oath. The article begins:

    "Many people think of loyalty oaths as relics of the McCarthy era, long ago outlawed or abandoned. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has banned only certain kinds of loyalty oaths, permitting others. Last week, a mathematics instructor at California State University East Bay lost her job for refusing to sign one.

    "Marianne Kearney-Brown, who is also a graduate student at East Bay, tried to add a word to the state’s Oath of Allegiance so that it would conform with her Quaker beliefs. The university offered her the chance to add a statement with her views, but insisted that she sign the oath, unaltered, and said that it had no choice but to fire her when she refused. "

Oaths and statements of belief are not unheard of in academe, but they seem most often to help in self-selecting. For example, a friend of mine is a Catholic, and sought employment at a Protestant University. After consulting with his priest, he felt comfortable in working at the institution because he saw his beliefs to be consistent with the institution's statement of faith. Nowadays, this is the way the scenario typically plays out.

The Kearney-Brown case is a bit different, of course. A state institution demanding a loyalty oath of an employee, who wishes to make clear that she is not willing to support violence because of her religious beliefs. It strikes me as heavy-handed and unevenly applied, given that she altered other oaths in government employment in the past, with no consequence. At the same time, I do not understand why she thought it inadequate that she add a statement of her views. Perhaps there are legal or other consequences of which I am unaware.

At any rate, it is an interesting story in higher ed. And in the senseless bureaucracy that US Education has become, the real irony is revealed in the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of the story:

    "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.

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