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.