Nebraska ACLU: McCarthy-Era Loyalty Pledge for Teachers Must Go
The Hastings public school district in Nebraska has recently begun following an old law requiring teachers to pledge their beliefs to American ideals. But now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska has gotten involved in the attempt to stop the Hastings public school district from continuing to enforce the law.
The law dates back to 1951, during the height of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. It requires teachers to sign a pledge outlining their loyalty to the United States. The pledge given to the Hastings Public Schools teachers read as follows:
All persons engaged in teaching in the public schools of the State of Nebraska and all other employees paid from public school funds, shall sign the following pledge:
I, ………., do believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; an indissoluble nation of many sovereign states; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
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 law is actually still in place in the state of Nebraska, and information about whether or not various school districts follow it appears to be spotty. However, requiring public employees to sign such a pledge has actually been declared unconstitutional multiple times.
Despite the fact that the law has been on the books since 1951, this year appears to be the first time in recent decades that Hastings Public Schools teachers were actually asked to sign it. According to Hastings Public Schools superintendent Craig Kautz, this change is because he was not aware of the law previously, and is now following it based on legal advice. He also points out that if members of the staff choose not to sign it, it will not negatively affect their employment status in the schools.
Regardless, the Nebraska ACLU had a serious problem with the pledge, and sent the letter to warn the Hastings School District about moving forward with its enforcement. In the letter sent to the school district, Amy Miller, legal director for the Nebrasksa branch stated:
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 statue is unconstitutional and will expose the school district to liability to a civil rights lawsuit.
Currently, there are discussions in Nebraska about whether or not to change the law, but it seems like there’s plenty of confusion over whether or not it would stand up in court. Rex Schultze, a lawyer who represents some of the Nebraska school districts that require that the law is signed, has stated:
I don’t think the (teacher pledge) law is unconstitutional because it does not require anyone to give up any constitutional rights of free speech or association. All it says is you will, as part of your employment, seek to encourage these things.
Either the Hastings Public Schools will stop requiring teachers to sign the pledge, or this could end up being examined more specifically in court, putting an end to the debate once and for all.