Fired “nonviolent” teacher reinstated

A reader alerted me that Marianne Kearney-Brown got her job back!


HAYWARD, Calif. — A Quaker math instructor who was fired by Cal State East Bay after she refused on religious grounds to sign a state loyalty oath has been reinstated, university officials said Friday.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a pacifist, was concerned that signing the oath to “support and defend” the California and U.S. constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” could commit her to take up arms. She was fired Feb. 28 after she inserted the word “nonviolently” before “support and defend” and signed that version.

The university, averting a showdown over religious freedom, agreed to rehire Kearney-Brown after the office of state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown helped draft a statement declaring that the oath does not commit employees to bear arms in the country’s defense.

Kearney-Brown, 50, said she was relieved that the issue was resolved and excited to return next week to teaching her class in remedial math. “I just want to teach kids who hate math,” she said. “That’s all I want to do.”

The idea that someone could be fired for refusing to sign a loyalty oath came as a surprise to many Californians who were unaware that public employees are still required to sign it. The pledge was added to the state Constitution in 1952 at the height of anti-Communist hysteria and has remained a prerequisite for public employment ever since. All state, city, county, public school, community college and public university employees are required to sign the 86-word oath. Noncitizens are exempt.

“A lot of people are saying it’s not a big deal, but I just couldn’t do it,” Kearney-Brown said. “Is the country safer because people sign it without thinking about it?”

The firing of Kearney-Brown, who also is a graduate student at the campus, brought widespread criticism from faculty members, students, Quakers and civil-liberties advocates. Some faculty members began circulating a petition objecting to it. The United Auto Workers, which represents teaching assistants, pursued a grievance on Kearney-Brown’s behalf.

“People were outraged,” said Henry Reichman, a Cal State East Bay history professor and chairman of the Academic Senate. “I was very vocal on the campus that this was an outrageous thing.”

Reichman said that he did not fault campus administrators for the firing and that they were put in an awkward position because of the constitutional requirement that every employee sign the oath.

“It’s an anachronism,” he said. “It’s left over from the McCarthy era. I would like to see the Legislature repeal this — although on the priority list of civil liberties issues in the country, there are a lot of things that are a lot higher.”

She was hired at Cal State East Bay in January to teach remedial math and received a stellar job evaluation before her dismissal.

After Kearney-Brown added “nonviolently” to the oath, university officials sternly told her that it was “impermissible” to modify the pledge.

Kearney-Brown accused the university of turning the matter of the oath into a “meaningless formality.”

“It bothers me that no one took me or my religious concerns seriously,” she wrote in a letter to CSU legal counsel Eunice Chan.

The university invited Kearney-Brown to write an explanation of her views that could be included in her personnel file — as long as her statement did not negate the oath.

Instead, she asked the university to give her a statement declaring that signing the oath would not require her to take up arms.

“I do support the Constitution,” she said before she was rehired. “I value and honor it. To be honest, I feel like I am defending it by doing this.”

After Kearney-Brown filed the grievance over her firing, the university consulted with the attorney general’s office and produced the kind of document she had requested.

“You should know that signing the oath does not carry with it any obligation or requirement that public employees bear arms or otherwise engage in violence,” read the unsigned statement. “This has been confirmed by both the United States Supreme Court . . . and the California attorney general’s office.”

With that document stapled to the oath, Kearney-Brown signed it.

Clara Potes-Fellow, a spokeswoman for the 23-campus Cal State system, said it had not changed its position by rehiring Kearney-Brown and the university was pleased by the final result.

“This is the best of all outcomes,” Potes-Fellow said. “We are delighted that finally this was resolved.”

Kearney-Brown, though happy to be going back to work, said she remains disappointed by the university’s handling of the matter. “Here was an issue of religious freedom and they weren’t defending the Constitution,” she said.

Her ordeal behind her, she said she still views the loyalty oath as a useless requirement.

“The way it’s laid out, a noncitizen member of Al Qaeda could work for the university but not a citizen Quaker,” she said. “Why not an oath that says, ‘I will respect every student,’ or ‘I will vote in every election.’ Something that makes sense.”

Link: Los Angeles Times


Teacher is fired for nonviolence

Kudos to a brave individual who stood up for her belief. Unfortunately Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student, lost her job because she chooses to be non-violent. Read this story from SF Chronicle:

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.

“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before – but had modified it each time.

She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high schools.

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.

Click here to read the rest.