Saturday, March 01, 2008

God is on My Side

As the ABC'ers (Anything But Christians) battle it out over whose side God is on (I vote for none of the above) in the upcoming presidential election, another issue related to religious freedom has me greatly bothered.

At the same time that pharmacists are permitted to refuse to fill prescriptions for legally prescribed drugs or contraceptives based upon their religious beliefs and physicians are permitted to refuse to perform certain procedures on the same basis, Martyrs and pestles, despite the fact that it pertains to areas that are essential parts of their jobs, the line is drawn when it comes to expressions of faux patriotism.

An article in the San Fransisco Chronicle reports on the firing of a math teacher who refused to sign a required loyalty oath. What's up with this un-patriotic person? Is she a terrorist in disguise? Not quite. As was noted in Quaker teacher fired for changing loyalty oath:

California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word "nonviolently" in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

And what was her problem? She wanted to add the word "nonviolently" in front of support the Constitution and changed the word "swear" to "affirm." A true radical, she. As the piece explains:

Each time, when asked to "swear (or affirm)" that she would "support and defend" the U.S. and state Constitutions "against all enemies, foreign and domestic," Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote "nonviolently" in front of the word "support," crossed out "swear," and circled "affirm." All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said.

The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.

But Cal State East Bay wouldn't, and she was fired on Thursday.

Modifying the oath "is very clearly not permissible," the university's attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. "It's an unfortunate situation. If she'd just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment."

Modifying oaths is open to different legal interpretations. Without commenting on the specific situation, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown said that "as a general matter, oaths may be modified to conform with individual values." For example, court oaths may be modified so that atheists don't have to refer to a deity, said spokesman Gareth Lacy.

Kearney-Brown said she could not sign an oath that, to her, suggested she was agreeing to take up arms in defense of the country.

"I honor the Constitution, and I support the Constitution," she said. "But I want it on record that I defend it nonviolently."

For anyone familiar with Quakers (or, the Religious Society of Friends), this is not a surprise. Based upon their religious beliefs, Quakers do not take oaths or "swear" on the bible, pledge allegiance or salute the flag, See e.g., An Introduction to Quakers. And a basic tenet of their belief system is that of non-violence and passivism. The Quakers refusal to participate in active duty during time of war for religious reasons was the origin of contentious objectors.

The university's lawyer most certainly has provided the school with bad advice and the law will eventually be stricken, after much time and expense litigating the matter. We are talking about religious freedom -- which does not impinge or impact her ability to perform her job. There should be no issue here.

In fact, I recall a few years ago in the fervor after 9/11 that Pennsylvania adopted a mandatory pledge of allegiance and hanging of the American flag in all schools. Prior to passage of the final bill, after strenuous objections were raised, an exception was made for religious institutions. I was on the Board at my daughter's Quaker school and the time and was involved in the protests of the statute. Of course, the onerous exceptions were still challenged and the law was struck down as unconstitutional. See The Pennsylvania Mandatory School Pledge of Allegiance Law.

Unfortunately, this does not touch upon an area that the extremists in the religious right care about, so they have no interest in supporting religious freedom -- unless it suits their needs.

As Judge Sloviter of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals put it in the Pennsylvania case:

It may be useful to note our belief that most citizens of the United States willingly recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proudly sing the national anthem. But the rights embodied in the Constitution, most particularly in the First Amendment, protect the minority – those persons who march to their own drummers. It is they who need the protection afforded by the Constitution and it is the responsibility of federal judges to ensure that protection.
The Circle School vs. Pappert, No. 03-3285 (3rd Cir. Aug. 19, 2004).

That's why it's good to Keep the Church out of the State. The "state" shouldn't be taking sides, just like God.


Anonymous said...

Forgive me if I am behind the times here, but when did we start requiring a loyalty oath for teachers?

Uphold and defend the Constitution is in the oath for all political office, which I understand, but teachers?


JudiPhilly said...

Actually, a number of states require them. They usually permit opt-outs for religious reasons.

What else would you expect from a society that values flag pins and patriotic decals on cars as expressions of patriotism?