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Image from Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD, on Friday, March 8, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr/cc)

Image from Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD, on Friday, March 8, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr/cc)

ACLU Threatens Action over McCarthy-Era Loyalty Oath for Teachers

Teachers required to inculcate students with 'a love and devotion to the policies and institutions that have made America the finest country in the world in which to live'

Sarah Lazare

The Nebraska chapter of the ACLU is threatening to sue one of the state's public school districts over its invocation, for the first time in decades, of a McCarthy-era state law that requires employees to sign an oath of "love and devotion" to the United States.

Dating back to 1951, the law requires "all persons engaged in teaching in the public schools of the State of Nebraska and all other employees paid from public school funds" to sign the pledge of loyalty. The oath includes the following language (emphasis added):

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.

While on the books for over half a century, this year is the first time in recent decades that public school administrators have asked teachers to sign the pledge. Hastings Public School Superintendent Craig Kautz is requiring teachers to sign the pledge after first learning about earlier this year, according to an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star. "So, for the first time in my working career we basically asked our staff to do that—our teaching staff—the minimum required by statute," said Kautz.

Despite putting the pledge in front of teachers, Kautz claims that those who refuse to sign will not be penalized.

The ACLU of Nebraska, however, says it has received "several complaints" from school employees about the loyalty oath, which the civil liberties organization says is a clear violation of numerous legal precedents set by the U.S. Supreme. Amy Miller, legal director for the Nebraska ACLU, on Friday released an open letter to Kautz, on behalf of concerned workers who have so far decided to remain anonymous, in which she threatened litigation against the school.

"I understand that it may be confusing for local school districts who see the state statute still in the law books—but you need to know that the statute is a dead letter law which has been clearly overruled by the highest court in the land," wrote Miller. "Attempting to enforce the state statute is unconstitutional and will expose the school district to liability to a civil rights lawsuit."

"The employees we've spoken to love their jobs," the letter continues. "But they have deeply held beliefs that do not permit them to sign an outdated McCarthy era pledge. I am sure that your office wants to support valuable employees and not force them to choose between their jobs and their principles."

Miller pledged to "close our file" if the school, within seven days, informs "all district employees that the pledge is no longer required," stating "there is no need for expensive litigation." The school has yet to announce a reversal of the policy.

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