The LA Times actually did a good bit of reporting here.
What bothers me is that I can actually see both sides of the argument.
One the one hand, I took an oath to defend this country against all enemies foreign and domestic. That oath ended with “I do so affirm” rather than “So help me God.” My affirmation is worth far more to me than any oath I could possibly take to a god I don’t believe exists. If the government of the United States can accept my affirmation, instead of making me ‘swear to god’, it seems that the point of the oath is not so much legal mumbo-jumbo as it is a ceremonial part of the indoctrination into military life. It is a symbolic, conscious, differentiating act that reminds the one taking the oath that one’s life is changed forever if you take this step (and to really freaking think it through before you do it). In my case, just as when I had to affirm to tell the truth in court, my own word is the bond I put up against my promise. If I would break that oath, why would swearing to deity make you think I wouldn’t break as well? For someone who is indeed religious to the point that taking any oath whatsoever is counter doctrinaire to their beliefs, should not this same standard apply?
On the other hand, when accepting a job with a governmental agency of any kind, should the government not have the right to make the person who wants the job and the paycheck sign an oath to protect the very government who is signing the check? If the oath is too onerous for a person to take, then that person should seek employment elsewhere.
Back to the first hand, here is the oath required of all State of California employees, from the Governor down to the clerk at the DOT who approves bridge designs or the CHP dispatcher or even teachers of religion at state universities:
From the California Constitution:
“I, ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”
Seems simple and straightforward. I don’t know how much “defending” it is reasonable to assume will be coming from the direction of Mr. Smithers, the sixty-nine year old metrosexual professor of “television ethics” (made up name) or from Granny Mo who teaches art at the local campus. How much “defending” can we count on from the same clerk who issues you your driver’s license? Or the State employee who serves the line at the cafeteria in the Capitol? The problem stems from the anti-commie legislation in 1952 that wound up in the state constitution. It was to weed out anti-American or pro-Soviet sympathizers. So, let me get this straight: a university in CALIFORNIA fired a teacher because her refusal to take an oath makes her look like she is anti-American? Hellsbells, I thought that was a requirement for college presidents in California. not a firing offense!
(No, the more likely answer is that the university doesn’t want to have a deeply religious person as a member of their staff. It might skew their Left-Right Balance too close to Center. But that’s another show.)
Back to the second hand: shouldn’t everyone in our country be prepared to defend it? If you live under our code of laws and enjoy the freedoms the Fed and State Constitutions guarantee, then shouldn’t you indeed be willing to uphold the responsibilities that come with them? Defending the Constitution can be the simple act of upholding the law, or calling the police if you have knowledge of someone breaking it. Defending the Constitution can be as simple as teaching your students in accordance with state statute: it doesn’t necessarily mean picking up a rifle and shooting down the invaders.
Now, however, comes the third hand:
Noncitizens are not required to sign.
This amounts an official recognition that some people would be breaking one oath to take another, leaving the second oath worth no more than the first (broken) one. I could get off the tangent of “why are non-citizens even given jobs by the state” but that clouds the issue. The fact remains that for whatever reason, some people are already exempt. A law that covers only a few is unconstitutional at the federal level.
My final hand, the one that makes me look like some ancient argumentative Indian godling, is a strictly personal one. I don’t care what religion you follow, as long as your religion doesn’t preclude you from being an integrated member of society. I don’t mean that you have to work from cradle to grave to be productive, or that you have to subsume your beliefs for the good of the State, or even that you owe allegiance to any government that you are not a willing participant in. (I tell you, ‘rational anarchist’ is looking better and better all the time; thanks to Professor Bernardo de la Paz for planting that brainworm when I was eleven.) But in my opinion, every free citizen should be ready to uphold the Constitution every day they reap the benefits of living under it. If they disagree with the one in California, work to change it or move to another state. If your religion means that much to you, you should be willing to sacrifice for it. However, ANY law that is unequal either in it’s scope or in it’s implementation is automatically null and void and voices should be raised against it. When voices don’t work, and the unjust laws keep being made, and those who make and enforce them will not redress grievances, then is the time to decide if you are willing to continue living under that contract: whether by voting with your feet or by taking the battle to the courts, or eventually even deciding that your contract has been broken by those who swore to uphold it and, indeed, hold them accountable.
Tags: only in california