Oops! I’m Perjured Again

Until I saw Ed Brayton’s post about a math teacher fired from Cal State East Bay for refusing to sign a loyalty oath, I had mostly forgotten that I might be technically guilty of perjury. Y’see, as a public employee of the state of California, I was required to sign that exact same oath:

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.

My thought process was as follows: Well, that’s dumb. Okay, I don’t advocate the violent or otherwise unlawful overthrow of the government. I bet this is one of those hilarious 1950s anticommunist things. How do I want to handle my tax withholdings?

I could have wasted a bunch of time filing a long and obnoxious amendment clarifying, among other things, that I do not consider the Constitution as important as human life and will not bear arms against its enemies. But I figured that all of the terms in the oath were vague enough to fit my beliefs.

Not according to the Cal State lawyers:

Kearney-Brown inserted “nonviolently,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.”

That’s when the university sought legal advice.

“Based on the advice of counsel, we cannot permit attachments or addenda that are incompatible and inconsistent with the oath,” the campus’ human resources manager, JoAnne Hill, wrote to Kearney-Brown.

If adding the word “nonviolently” is inconsistent with the oath, then my interpretation probably constitutes a “mental reservation or purpose of evasion”.

Oops! Perjured! I hate when that happens.

As a result of possibly the most ridiculous ballot initiative system in the Union, the California constitution is unusually long and riddled with detailed garbage. It includes such gems as Article 20, Section 2:

Except for tax exemptions provided in Article XIII, the rights, powers, privileges, and confirmations conferred by Sections 10 and 15 of Article IX in effect on January 1, 1973, relating to Stanford University and the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, are continued in effect.

But of course, as a Berkeley student it is my solemn duty to hate everything that Stanford stands for. Oops! Perjured again!

Of course, as Eugene Volokh points out, these sorts of loyalty oaths have never been construed to require violence, or cheering for Stanford’s tax loophole, or any other specific action. The only reason they’re legal at all is that they are effectively meaningless. So by requiring them, and refusing to allow Kearney-Brown’s modifications, we’re not doing anything to ensure that a reserve army of math teachers will wield sharp pencils and calculators against the combined onslaught of terrorists, Mike Huckabee, film critics, zombies, Zombie Mike Huckabee, and Canada. We’re just making sure that men and women of integrity can never hold public office.

I usually think cynical jokes about how politicians love corruption and empty promises are too obvious to be funny, but if you like them, feel free to insert such a joke right here.


  1. Kim wrote:

    We’ve got a similar (though less detailed) oath in Colorado. And we’ve got a constitution that is also amended by referendum, and which is really hard to un-amend. (If only the amendments were all as funny as special priviledges for Stanford.)

    I’m also not allowed to make political statements using state resources, so for the record, I’m at home at my own computer, with a singing four-year-old sitting on my lap. (Spring break.)

  2. Julian wrote:

    Wait, so TAs are public employees of the State? That makes sense in terms of how the univeristy system works, but…I cannot remember reading this oath before, signing this oath, or being put into any situation where I was asked to sign this oath.
    Of course, considering I am in the midst of full blown thesis writing panic, I probably did sign it and any recollections of thus have been squished out of my brain by 700 years of music theory…

    (HI, UC SYSTEM! I am also on my home computer, being confused!)

  3. delagar wrote:

    Here in AR, at our working class university, under the previous administration, we had to sign an oath swearing not to diss the administration, and not to “encourage” drug or alcohol use among the students, upon pain of termination.

    I never knew exactly what that meant — If I was teaching the Romantics, for instance, was I forbidden to mention how Coleridge did opium? Could I never mention my own occasional use of rum? Did I have to pretend beer did not exist?

    Our new administration is a deal more sane, thank sht.

  4. Maria wrote:

    Julian, I’d nearly forgotten about it too – they gave it to me in a blizzard of paperwork so I was very much in the zone of signing, dating, and moving on to the next form. Or maybe your department is engaged in a little bit of civil disobedience and/or bureaucratic sleight-of-hand.

    Delagar, did the students have to sign that oath? Or just the faculty? That’s pretty slimy in either case, but it’s ultra-slimy to make it a condition for getting an education (which, given that some departments make TAing a requirement for the degree and not just a source of money, the California system is effectively doing – I’d like to see a principled anarchist make a test case out of that).

    I am totally typing these political statements using Berkeley’s bandwidth. Neener neener neener!

  5. Hob wrote:

    I actually did read the CA constitution when I realized I’d have to sign one of those, and I was relieved to find that there wasn’t anything I really objected to… but I don’t remember seeing that Stanford thing, so maybe I missed all kinds of other horrible stuff. They don’t require me to roast more than one kitten a week, do they?

    Anyway, Volokh is right (or at least his opinion fits with everything else I’ve ever heard about these things) and I hope Cal State will have to eat some crow and get better lawyers.

  6. delagar wrote:

    We don’t have a graduate program, so it’s just faculty. It was the not speaking ill of the administration that irked me most, at the time that I signed it, b/c I could clearly see what they were attempting with that bit; but it turned out to be the drug & alcohol bit that hampered me most, since it turned out to be near impossible to teach literature without talking about intoxicating substances (who knew!). After a while, it got to be a joke in my classes. “Wait!” I would say, after I mentioned alcohol or opium one more time. “I’m not supposed to tell you about that! Never mind!”

  7. Jonathan Vos Post wrote:

    (1) I cannot be objective about this, because I have been a grad student at Cal State L.A. (to get my full teaching credentials, through the Charter College of Education) and shall be again (after a quarter off for major emergency surgery).

    (2) Further, I cannot be objective about this, because my son graduated from Cal State L.A. with a double B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science, having matriculated there from the ages of 13 through 18.

    (3) Volokh is right.

    (4) I’ll check with my son this weekend when I see him. He’s now turned 19, and is in his 2nd semester at USC Law School.

    (5) The safer thing to do with weird contracts is NOT to cross out clauses, but to interlineate your comments. I have done this, for instance, on the surgical consent form for the aforementioned major emergency surgery. The Charge Nurse rejected my contract, because I’d written on it. You need to fill out a virgin form,” she said. I pointed out to the surgeon that the purpose of the form was to contractually limit the liability of the hospital, and what greater degree of “informed consent” could there be than my heavily annotated document, which proved that I had read and understood every clause (albeit I disagreed with some and claimed that others were unenforceable).

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