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When Beliefs Can’t Be Compromised

May 3, 2008

Quaker factoid: Some Friends have accepted the use of “affirmations” rather than oaths, believing that the problem with oaths is that by swearing an oath, you are admitting that you otherwise might not be expected to tell the truth.

So much for justice

HAYWARD, CA (ContraCosta Times) March 5 – The state attorney general’s office has sided with California State University, East Bay’s decision last week to fire a math teacher who modified her state-required Oath of Allegiance to conform with her Quaker beliefs.

Citing the 1968 case Smith v. County Engineer of San Diego County, the attorney general’s office said the university was right to let go of Marianne Kearney-Brown, a graduate student who began teaching remedial math in January.

In the 1968 case, the court rejected an attempt by a government employee to add language to the oath declaring a religious allegiance, according to a letter sent to university officials Tuesday from Attorney General Jerry Brown.

“Ms. Kearney-Brown’s attempt to modify the original and valid language of the oath appears to have been made in good faith and in accordance with her Quaker beliefs,” the letter said. “Nevertheless, the courts have refused to allow changes or qualifications to be made to the oath, regardless of good intentions.”

Kearney-Brown, 50, said Tuesday that she still plans to pursue legal action, even after hearing the statement from the attorney general.

“Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness, I have nothing to lose,” she said after a reporter read her Brown’s statement. “I just think it’s so wrong to expect people to blindly sign an oath without seeking clarification.”

The veteran educator is no stranger to making changes to the oath required by all public employees. Revisions were made during previous teaching stints in Sonoma and Vallejo, where she encountered no problems.

Each time, she made modifications to comply with her Quaker beliefs.

The beginning of the Oath of Allegiance reads: “I, ————, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States….”

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

“I just couldn’t sign it without any mental reservation,” she said. “I believe in the Constitution and what it stands for, but in a nonviolent way. If I signed it, then it wouldn’t be true and I’d be perjuring myself.”

Oddly enough, Kearney-Brown was fired from a job in a subject area that she’s studying. She’s working on a master’s degree in mathematics at CSUEB.

“I love teaching kids who hate math,” she said. “I’ll do it for free. I just want to teach.”

Kearney-Brown remains upbeat over the situation that has caught the attention of the Internet community. Bloggers and religious sites have all chimed in on the incident.

“What used to be a few entries when searching my name on Google is now 10 pages long,” she said, impressed at how the news has been received. “I was at a coffee shop the other day and overheard a man say, ‘Hey, did you hear about that Quaker who got fired?”‘

Regardless of future outcomes regarding the matter, she hopes people will take the time to think about documents such as oaths before signing away.

People shouldn’t treat these things as a meaningless formality. It may be a pipe dream, but they should limit the oath or make it something you can understand, like ‘I will vote in every election’ or ‘I will respect every child in my classroom,”‘ she said. “Yeah. Give me an oath like that.”

I wish her good luck, a quandry I’ve yet to face. As a convinced Quaker (meaning I was born into a different tradition and traded that in for a new one) I suppose I will face this if I appear in court or for Jury Duty. Something to ponder, faith and integrity VS employment and convention.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Driftingfocus permalink
    August 4, 2008 11:42 pm

    Thank you, remnants of McCarthyism…

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