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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A loyalty oath is an oath of loyalty to an organization, institution, or state of which an individual is a member.

In this context, a loyalty oath is distinct from pledge or oath of allegiance. It is an affirmation by which a person signs a legally binding document or warrant.

Usually, a loyalty oath to an organization or to a nation state is created during a time of social tension when people wish to guard against behavior like advocating fundamental change in the organization, advocating violent overthrow of the nation state, or spreading dissent within the organization. Such social tension is most manifest during times of war or when the organization or nation state is faced with a conflict with one or more other organizations or nation states (see Cold War).


In the United States


Civil War and Reconstruction

During the American Civil War, political prisoners and prisoners of war were often released upon taking an "oath of allegiance". Lincoln's Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction featured an oath to "faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the union of the States thereunder" as a condition for a Presidential pardon. During Reconstruction, retroactive loyalty oaths were required, so that no one could hold federal, state, or local offices, who had been a Confederate soldier or sympathizer.

Truman era

Loyalty oaths were common during World War II. In support of Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration, 100,000 school children marched to Boston Common and swore a loyalty oath administered by the mayor, "I promise as a good American citizen to do my part for the NRA. I will buy only where the Blue Eagle flies." Another use of loyalty oaths in the United States was during the 1950s and 1960s. The Red Scare during the 1950s and the Congressional hearings chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy helped to sustain a national mood of concern about communist agents and a fear such agents may injure the U.S. government through espionage or outright violence.

On March 21, 1947, concerned with Soviet subversive penetration and infiltration into the United States government by American citizens who held oaths of allegiance to a foreign power during war time, President Harry S Truman instituted a Loyalty Program, requiring loyalty oaths and background investigations on persons deemed suspect to holding party membership in organizations that advocated violent and anti-democratic programs.

Typically, a loyalty oath has wording similar to that mentioned in the U.S Supreme Court decision of Garner v. Los Angeles Board, 341 U.S. 716.

"I further swear (or affirm) that I do not advise, advocate or teach, and have not within the period beginning five (5) years prior to the effective date of the ordinance requiring the making of this oath or affirmation, advised, advocated or taught, the overthrow by force, violence or other unlawful means, of the Government of the United States of America or of the State of California and that I am not now and have not, within said period, been or become a member of or affiliated with any group, society, association, organization or party which advises, advocates or teaches, or has, within said period, advised, advocated or taught, the overthrow by force, violence or other unlawful means of the Government of the United States of America, or of the State of California. I further swear (or affirm) that I will not, while I am in the service of the City of Los Angeles, advise, advocate or teach, or be or become a member of or affiliated with any group, association, society, organization or party which advises, advocates or teaches, or has within said period, advised, advocated or taught, the overthrow by force, violence or other unlawful means, of the Government of the United States of America or of the State of California . . . ."


The oaths were repeatedly challenged on grounds that they violated the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of association. The United States Supreme Court avoided addressing these problems during the McCarthy Era. During the 1960s, it began striking down such oaths on the basis of vagueness and undue breadth. In 1962 it struck down a Florida requirement that teachers swear "I have not and will not lend my aid, support, advice, counsel or influence to the Communist party". This decision was followed in 1964 by its lack of support for two oaths, one of which required teachers to promote respect for the flag, reverence for law and order, and loyalty to the institutions of the United States and the State of Washington. Arizona and New York teacher oaths affirming lack of association with subversive organizations were struck down in 1966 and 1967.

New York Education Law Section 3002 requires that any ‘teacher, instructor or professor in any [state] school or institution in the public school system … or in any school, college, university or other educational institution’ sign an oath pledging support for the federal and state constitutions. The law does not apply to foreign nationals, but only to United States citizens.[1] The law was enacted in 1934 in response to a nationwide campaign by the American Legion.[2] The law was challenged by a group of 27 faculty members from Adelphi University in 1966 because the oath constrained free speech, and because it selectively applied to faculty members but not staff. For unknown reasons, Adelphi faculty had never been required to sign the oath until 1966 when a staff member in the New York State Education Department discovered the oversight.[2] On January 22, 1968, after moving through the judicial system, the United States Supreme Court affirmed an earlier District Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the law.[3] This was the first occasion on which the Supreme Court evaluated the constitutionality of oaths of this type. The last major loyalty oath case heard by the court was decided in 1972, when it upheld a requirement that State of Massachusetts employees swear to uphold and defend the Constitution and to "oppose the overthrow of the [government] by force, violence, or by any illegal or unconstitutional method".[4]



Republican party

Though not legally binding, the Republican National Committee (RNC) used both signed Loyalty Oaths and spoken Loyalty Pledges as a requirement to attend certain 2004 re-election campaign speeches, a possible first in U.S. election history.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, the campaign of George W. Bush routinely required all attendants at its rallies to take what some have called a "loyalty oath". Those who refused to take the oath were not allowed to attend the rally. The "loyalty oath" was actually a pledge of endorsement. These endorsements were used during some of the campaign rallies in 2004. The Bush campaign asserted that the oath was valid because the president was conducting a partisan campaign event. Opponents countered that the oath was intrusive to individual conscience, somewhat fascist in nature and denied general public access to the president.[5][6][7]


The California state constitution still requires all state workers to sign a loyalty oath as a term of employment.[8] On February 28, 2008, the California State University, East Bay fired Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker, for refusing to do so without inserting a reservation that her defense of the state and country would be done "nonviolently."[9] She was reinstated a week later, when she agreed to sign the oath when accompanied by a document prepared by the university that included the clarification "Signing the oath does not carry with it any obligation or requirement that public employees bear arms or otherwise engage in violence."[10]


In the March 2008 State of Ohio presidential primary, some people might have been required to sign a loyalty oath in order to vote. Voters who wish to switch their party affiliation on Primary Election Day and who are challenged are supposed to sign a statement "stating that the person desires to be affiliated with and supports the principles of the political party whose ballot the person desires to vote."[11] The statement is signed under penalty of "election falsification." If the challenged person refuses to sign the statement under penalty of election falsification, he is given a provisional ballot.[12]

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, among others, thus describes the nature of the statement and effect of "election falsification": Anyone who signs this loyalty oath, but doesn't intend to honor it, can be prosecuted for "election falsification," a fifth-degree felony.[13]

The statute, however, describes the offense differently: "No person, either orally or in writing, on oath lawfully administered or in a statement made under penalty of election falsification, shall knowingly state a falsehood as to a material matter relating to an election in a proceeding before a court, tribunal, or election official, or in a matter in relation to which an oath or statement under penalty of election falsification is authorized by law..."[14] Thus the requirement is, arguably, more a statement of current intent than a loyalty oath's promise of future support.

See also

Court cases involving loyalty oaths



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