After being hired to teach American Studies and Women’s Studies courses at Cal State Fullerton last fall, Wendy Gonaver was dismissed when the university refused to allow her to clarify in writing that by signing a required “loyalty oath” to defend the state and federal Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” she was not committing herself to take up arms. Gonaver is a Quaker and pacifist.
Her efforts to reach a resolution ran into a brick wall. She was informed by Cal State Fullerton last August that “there are no exceptions allowed to the statement within the CSU, or additions as you propose.” And they told her in no uncertain terms that if she could not “sign the statement as it is,” she could not have a job. When she showed up to teach on the first day of school, she couldn’t get keys to her classroom.
People For the American Way Foundation attorneys have written to Cal State Fullerton insisting that the university allow Gonaver to sign the oath with an explanatory statement and reinstate her to her teaching job; and to adopt a policy that would allow any employee in a similar situation to express religious or other concerns about the language of the “loyalty oath” required by the state.
“I fully support the Constitution and remain willing to sign the oath,” says Gonaver, “but it’s important to me that my religious views and my right to free speech are recognized. I hope that we can find a solution. I’m really looking forward to returning to the classroom.”
If you’re surprised to hear that someone being hired to teach at a California public university is required to sign a “loyalty oath,” a Los Angeles Times story about the case summarized the situation this way:
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.
Gonaver is not the first person whose religious objections to the required oath has led to being fired from a teaching job at a state university. But not all the state’s educational institutions take the hard line that Cal State has taken. According to the Times,
Certain school districts and community colleges have been known to let employees change the wording of the oath when they sign or to ignore the requirement altogether. Others, including the University of California, advise employees on how they can register their objections yet still sign the pledge.
But not Cal State. Here’s the new policy regarding the oath requirement that is proposed in the letter from People For’s Legal Director Judith E. Schaeffer:
CSU recognizes that some of our employees may have religious or other objections to taking this oath. It is our policy to accommodate the religious and other beliefs of our employees by allowing an employee to append an explanatory statement to the employee’s signed oath.
It’s a simple and common-sense solution, but one that the university has yet to adopt, so People For is collecting petition signatures to give university officials a nudge.
Schaeffer says the legal issues are clear: “a reasonable accommodation of Gonaver’s religious and other beliefs is not only smart, it is required by law.”
“We think the matter is one that should be resolved quickly and without litigation,” Schaeffer adds. “But that’s up to university officials.”