Nebraska School District Asks Teachers to Sign 1951 Loyalty Oath

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Matt Blomstedt (photo: Nebraska Dept. of Education)

A Nebraska school district is asking its teachers to sign a loyalty oath created during the McCarthy Red Scare era that was declared unconstitutional more than 50 years ago.

 

The school board in Hastings has received a letter from the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) outlining the Supreme Court decisions, starting in 1964, that have made the loyalty oath unconstitutional and warning that the district may face costly litigation if it persists in asking its teachers to sign the oath.

 

“You need to know that the statute is a dead letter law which has been clearly overruled by the highest court in the land. Attempting to enforce the state statute is unconstitutional and will expose the school district to liability to a civil rights lawsuit,” the ACLU’s Amy Miller wrote in the letter, dated August 18.

 

The oath reads, in part:

 

I acknowledge it to be my duty to inculcate in the hearts and minds of all pupils in my care, so far as it is in my power to do, (1) an understanding of the United States Constitution and of the Constitution of Nebraska, (2) a knowledge of the history of the nation and of the sacrifices that have been made in order that it might achieve its present greatness, (3) a love and devotion to the policies and institutions that have made America the finest country in the world in which to live, and (4) opposition to all organizations and activities that would destroy our present form of government.

 

The district hadn’t asked teachers to sign the oath for years. That changed after Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt, spurred by requests from a right-wing Lincoln salesman, wrote a letter to the state’s school districts reminding them of the oath, and another law that requires school districts to create an “Americanism” committee along with setting minimum requirements for teaching U.S. history, according to Margaret Reist of the Lincoln Journal Star.

 

Not all Nebraska districts are heeding the request, but Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Craig Kautz seems to feel his hands are tied. He also said there’s no penalty provision in the law and that the jobs of those who don’t sign the oath won’t be affected. “Our job is to comply with the law to the best of our ability,” he told the Journal Star, “But to say that we are forcing employees to take a McCarthy-era loyalty oath is just not accurate.”

 

Nonetheless, Miller said teachers shouldn’t be forced to choose between compromising their beliefs and risking their jobs. “The employees we’ve spoken to love their jobs. But they have deeply held beliefs that do not permit them to sign an outdated McCarthy era pledge,” she wrote to the district. “I am sure that your office wants to support valuable employees and not force them to choose between their jobs and their principles.” The ACLU has sent a similar letter (pdf) to other Nebraska school districts.

 

The Nebraska Supreme Court has never reviewed the law, but in 1967 a court in the state’s Lancaster County struck down a similar law that forced public employees to sign an oath, according to the Journal Star.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

Nebraska School District Asks Teachers to Sign Pro-America Pledge; ACLU Objects (by Margaret Reist, Lincoln Journal Star)

Letter to School Districts (American Civil Liberties Union) (pdf)

Nebraska’s Loyalty Oath (NebraskaStudies.org)

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